By Rep. Darrio Melton
When Judge Roy Moore and I are on common ground, you know there’s a big problem.
Last week, the Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice said something I agree with: we need to look at our sentencing and fix our prison system.
In the United States–the land of the free–we lock more people in prison than any other nation in the world. Alabama’s incarceration rate ranks third among the states.
Nobody is saying that we should release violent offenders–murderers, rapists, child molesters–but I agree with Moore that we need to take a second look at our habitual offender law that gives life sentences to people who have never physically harmed anyone.
Right now, our prisons are operating at almost double capacity and it’s costing the state billions that could be used for early childhood education, health care, infrastructure improvements and other positive steps for Alabama.
Many of these individuals who are incarcerated could really benefit more from rehabilitation rather than punishment. Helping them find jobs, get on their feet and build a life that makes them proud could move Alabama forward in this generation and the next.
I don’t know if you’ve seen the new Senate chamber, but it has been renovated and it’s absolutely beautiful. The new desks the Senators will be using were built by talented craftsmen in Alabama’s correctional facilities.
These men and women have talents that they can put to work to improve the state and their communities.
Instead, they remain incarcerated in a prison system that is facing a federal take over if we don’t find a solution.
When California’s system came under federal control, it cost the state a billion dollars and released thousands of inmates. If we want to reform our prisons on our terms, we have to get to work.
This work will include reforming our sentencing and parole policies to determine who is a risk to the public and who needs rehabilitation, but it also involves new leadership to ensure that our prisons are being managed in efficient, legal and safe ways.
There have been too many allegations of physical abuse, sexual misconduct, drugs and violence behind the bars at our prisons.
Many groups, like the Equal Justice Initiative are working on reforms to protect our inmates–and I think the Prison Reform Task Force would do well to heed these concerns during their attempt to fix Alabama’s prison system.
There are good men and women in our corrections system that could use a helping hand to get on the right path. It’s time that we focused on rehabilitation over retribution and reformed Alabama’s prison to create a better path for this generation and those to come.
If we don’t fix it, President Obama will–and we all know that the Republicans can’t have that. Let’s work together and solve this problem for a better Alabama.
Representative Darrio Melton is a Democrat from Selma. He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2010 and currently serves as the chair of the House Democratic Caucus.