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Alabama Prisons: Why We Cannot Look Away from Alabama’s Shame (DMC Issue Guide)

The issue guide, Alabama Prisons: Why We Cannot Look Away from Alabama’s Shame, was a collaborative effort between David Mathews Center and AL.com, published 2014. The guide offers three approaches for deliberation to address the serious and widespread issues with the Alabama prison system. In addition to the guide, an eight and a half minute video was also created to summarize the realities of the Alabama prisons.

The guide offers three approaches for deliberation and within these approaches are five specific actions and consequences for each option. Below are the three approaches from the issue guide which were found on National Issues Forums Institute blog here. You can find more information about the issue guide, including the action/consequence of each approach and the brief video, on AL.com here.

From NIFI blog…

Approach One: “Increase Capacity and Improve Basic Conditions”
Alabama’s prison population far exceeds operational capacity, and conditions inside the facilities are raising constitutional questions. As a result, the Alabama Department of Corrections is now facing potential federal intervention and costly lawsuits. If the state does not significantly reduce overcrowding and improve basic conditions for inmates, then additional lawsuits may be filed and thousands of prisoners may be released. People want to feel safe in their communities, and many residents and lawmakers want to ensure that our prison system complies with the Constitution. If we want to avoid lawsuits, federal intervention and a potential release of prisoners, then we must increase capacity and improve conditions in the prisons. Our time line is limited and addressing difficult sentencing issues and root causes may take too long. If we want to solve this problem and stay tough on crime, then we must consider building new prisons, expanding existing facilities, and/or contracting with for-profit prisons.

Approach Two: “Address Root Causes through Education, Support and Rehabilitation”
Thousands of Alabamians are incarcerated every year, and the prison system is under stress. If we want to truly address the overcrowding issue, we cannot simply build more prisons. People must work to understand the root causes that lead residents to commit and re-commit crimes, and provide support to help remedy those deeper issues. Many people need educational support, community-based mentoring, substance abuse counseling and mental health services. Many offenders need access to educational services, job training and behavioral health support while incarcerated and after release. If we want to keep people out of prisons and avoid high recidivism rates, then we cannot ignore the real issues that drive individuals to break the law. By providing education, support and rehabilitation, we may also see benefits to communities, families, and the economy.

Approach Three: “Implement Alternative Approaches to Incarceration”
People who break the law must face consequences. Unfortunately, many Alabamians who break the law end up in state prison — resulting in overcrowding and dire conditions. Alabama’s increasing prison population is costing taxpayers a significant amount of money, and the long-term impact on communities and families is troubling. If we want to continue to punish criminal behavior and avoid the costly practice of mass incarceration, then we must consider alternatives to prison. Specifically, we must implement community corrections programs in every county, expand problem-solving courts and provide opportunities for restorative justice. We must also ensure that justice is applied in an equitable and consistent manner.

About DMC and the Issue Guides
The David Mathews Center—a non-profit, non-partisan organization—authors deliberative frameworks for people to carefully examine multiple approaches, weigh costs and consequences, and work through tensions and tradeoffs among different courses of action to current and historic issues of public concern.

David Mathews Center issue guides are named and framed by Alabamians for Alabama Issues Forums (AIF) during a biennial “Citizens’ Congress” and follow-up workshops. Alabama Issues Forums is a David Mathews Center signature program designed to bring Alabamians together to deliberate and take community action on an issue of public concern. Digital copies of all AIF issue guides, and accompanying post-forum questionnaires, are available for free download at http://mathewscenter.org/resources.

Follow DMC on Twitter: @DMCforCivicLife

Resource Link: www.nifi.org/en/groups/online-issue-framework-about-alabama-prison-reform

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