Connect with us

Crime

Sen. Doug Jones introduces legislation to prevent hate crimes

Chip Brownlee

Published

on

Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, is introducing legislation that would aim to curb online extremism and prevent it from turning into real-life hate crimes.

“We absolutely need to address the proliferation of hate-based violence in our country and around the world, and this bill is a necessary step forward,” Jones said. “The growth of social media has outpaced our understanding of how these technologies can be used to spread hate. We need to examine how these new forms of communication are used to inspire hate crimes and violence so that we can take the steps necessary to prevent this type of terrorism.”

The bill would require the Departments of Commerce and Justice study just how online platforms and other current forms of telecommunications are being used to fuel hate crimes.

It would also require the departments to recommend ways, consistent with the First Amendment, that the government or private citizens could combat growing hate threats.

A form of this type of report was issued in 1993 but hasn’t been updated in more than 25 years.

The report required by the legislation would analyze the role that different methods of telecommunications are playing in giving groups that advocate and encourage hate crimes a platform to spread their messages and to organize across the United States.

It would also examine how the use and role of telecommunications has changed because of the internet and other electronic media since the last similar report was submitted.

Advertisement

The bill would require that the reports be released at least every five years.

The legislation comes as the number of reported hate crimes has increased every year since 2015, according to the FBI. Of 7,100 hate crimes in 2017, three out of five were motivated by race and ethnicity.

Religion and sexual orientation were the other two leading motivators.

Advertisement
Advertisement

There are also concerns that hate crimes are being underreported. Reporting of hate crimes — which can range from vandalism to murder — to the federal government by local law enforcement entities is currently voluntary. Some jurisdictions, including some as large as Miami, reported zero in 2017.

Two major incidents in 2018 have brought more discussion over hate crimes. In October 2018, a white man was accused of fatally shooting two black people at a supermarket. Authorities said he tried to enter a predominately black church before the killing.

And in Pittsburgh, a white man was charged with killing 11 worshipers at a synagogue. He posted on social media accusing a Jewish organization that helps resettle immigrants and refugees of bringing “invaders” to “kill our people.”

 

Advertisement

Courts

Conservative Leadership Conference panel discusses prison reform

Brandon Moseley

Published

on

A panel discussed reforming Alabama’s prisons at the Conservative Leadership Conference in Florence Saturday.

State Senator Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, is Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and serves on the state prison task force. He is also a Republican candidate for Alabama Supreme Court, Place 1.

“Prison reform is a very vague term,” Ward said.

Ward warned that the state is under the threat of federal receivership of its prison and “It is going to cost money,” to satisfy the federal courts and the Department of Justice.

Recidivism is the rate that convicts re-offend once they are released. Decreasing the recidivism rate is a key component of addressing prison overcrowding.

Rich Anderson works with the Alabama Attorney General’s office.

“There are plenty of folks in prison that don’t want to do anything else,” Anderson said.

Advertisement

“There is an old saying that you can lead a horse to water; but you can’t make him drink,” Anderson said. “I want to make sure that there is water to be had if these guys want to drink.”

Chris Connolly is the Lauderdale County District Attorney.

“If they are selling drugs in Alabama they need to go to prison,” Connolly said.

Advertisement
Advertisement

“Taking away local discretion is a bad thing to me,” Connolly added on proposed sentencing law changes.

Mary Windom is the presiding Judge of the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals. Windom is running for re-election in the Republican primary for her Place 1 seat.

She thanked Ward for working with her on reducing the number of frivolous appeals of criminal verdicts. It took two years for the Legislature to understand.

“40 percent of them (inmates in Alabama’s prisons) have a mental health issue,” Ward said. 76 percent of them are there for violent crimes.

Anderson said that Alabama currently has 175 people on death row and the AG’s office only has eight lawyers in our division to handle all of those appeals from death row inmates.

Windom said that she and the other judges on the Court of Criminal Appeals have a large caseload.

“The five judges on the court of the criminal appeals handle all of those case plus every other criminal appeal,” Anderson explained. “One of the frustrations is how long death penalty cases take.”

Anderson said that many of those filings by defense teams in death penalty appeals cases are two hundred and three hundred pages long.

Connolly said, “David Riley executed a guy who was doing his job in a liquor store. Everybody knows he did it. If it (the death penalty) were real he would be dead.”

“It takes twenty years,” Connolly said.

“It is down to fourteen,” Ward answered.

“It needs to happen sooner,” Connolly replied. A guy like David Riley should already have been executed. “The problem is that the appeals never end. Justice delayed is justice denied.”

Rich Anderson blamed “Fake News” for creating a “false narrative” that there are lots of innocent people convicted of a crime. When there is a retrial and a guy like me can’t find the witness from twenty years ago that person is released and the defense claims he was exonerated and not guilty of the crime in the first place. That is not true.

“They are poisoning the public with that the prosecutor is not a minister of justice,” Anderson said. “That is a problem in our country this false narrative that we have all of these people. Exoneration is a false narrative.”

Ward said that exoneration is only a small part of criminal cases.

“I have been a defense attorney,” Connolly said. “I know how that game works.”

Continue Reading

Crime

House passes bill to make it a hate crime to attack law enforcement

Brandon Moseley

Published

on

The Alabama House of Representatives passed legislation Thursday that would add law enforcement officers to Alabama’s hate crimes statute. It now moves to the Senate.

The House passed HB59 by a margin of 92 to 0.

Under current law a crime become a hate crime if a person is victimized because of their race, creed, or disability. Murder to make money, in a crime of passion, or in the commission of a crime is murder. If a racist targets a person because of their race, then it become a hate crime and additional sentencing enhancements kick in under Alabama sentencing guidelines. House Bill 59 would make targeting a member of law enforcement because they are a member of law enforcement also a hate crime.

House Bill 59 is sponsored by State Representative Rex Reynolds (R-Huntsville).

Reynolds said that Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall supports the legislation.

“An attack on law enforcement in Alabama is an attack on all of her citizens—an attack on all Alabamians.…” Marshall said on social media. “If you take the life the life of a law enforcement officer, you will likely have forfeited your life as well.”

Marshall stated, “To the brave men and women who wear that badge, my heroes: Don’t give up. Don’t lose heart. Keep fighting the good fight, because your cause is righteous. Know that you have our support and our eternal gratitude.”

Advertisement

Reynolds said that attacks on law enforcement, whether it is throwing water on them, assaults, or assassinations are up across the country. “We are not going to stand for it anymore.”

State Representative Mary Moore (D-Birmingham) said, “I support the bill, but there are too many guns on the street.”

Moore proposed banning high powered rifles and AR-15s. “We need to level the playing field for them.” :We stand ready to come up with a bipartisan bill to curb the number of guns on the street. We need men and women who are not afraid of the National Rifle Association.”

Advertisement
Advertisement

“We have got to change how police officers are treated,” said Rep. Allen Treadaway (R-Morris). “I have been to too many police funerals.”

Treadaway is a police captain with Birmingham Police Department.

“The disrespect for police officers is unprecedented,” Treadaway said. “I have been a law enforcement officer for 30 years and I have not seen anything like it. We can’t hire police. We can’t retain police.”

Rep. Artis “A. J.” McCampbell (D-Livingston) said, “We have had eight police officers killed in the last 13 months.”

“How do we enhance the crimes when we already have a capital case for the murder of a police officer?” McCampbell asked.

Reynolds said that the sentence enhancements would apply when the police were targeted; but it is not a capital crime. 6,500 police officers were assaulted last year.

Reynolds said that harming an officer while attempting to escape or resisting arrest would not qualify as a hate crime. Attacking police because the motive is hate of the police would be a hate crime and then sentencing enhancements would apply.

Reynolds said that under current law if they are convicted of a capital crime of killing the police they get the death penalty.

Rep. John Rogers (D-Birmingham) said, “Is there a way to just give them the death penalty without going through all the appeals?”

Reynolds said, “I sure wish we could.”

Rogers said, “The death penalty should be automatic.”

Rogers daughter Mary Smith mas murdered.

“It has to be adjudicated in the court system before these enhancements would not come into play,” Reynolds said. “I hope there will come a day when a bill like this is not needed because people respect law enforcement.”

Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs) said that the police, sheriffs, and other law enforcement and first responders at the thin blue line protecting us and our families.

Mooney is a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate.

Continue Reading

Courts

Bills could improve access to diversion programs, report notes high fees and roadblocks

Eddie Burkhalter

Published

on

Bills recently introduced in the Alabama House and Senate aim to improve access to specialized courts and diversion programs, meant to get people the help they need and keep them from behind bars. 

Even with more access to those programs and courts, however, many can’t afford the exorbitant fees to remain free, according to a report released this week by an Alabama nonprofit criminal justice reform advocacy group, which also found racial disparities and a lack of critical information on outcomes. 

Sen Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, told APR on Wednesday that his bill would help provide access to those programs to people who live in smaller communities, which don’t have the money to afford them, by allowing judges to transfer municipal cases to circuit and district courts that do. 

Each participant – the defendant, the municipal court and the county court – would have to agree to transfer a case, according to the legislation. 

“You increase the opportunities for diversion, and smaller towns don’t have it,” Ward said. “It gives them a chance to avoid going to prison or going to jail.” 

In order for a presiding circuit judge to transfer a case, all parties would have to agree to do so, and the defendant would have to qualify for the drug court, mental health court, veteran’s court or diversion program, according to the bills. 

Rep. Jim Hill, R-Moody, introduced the House’s version of the bill. Attempts to reach Hill on Wednesday were unsuccessful. 

Advertisement

The legislation promises a way out of serving time in county jails and prisons for low-level crimes, but even with more access, many of those programs are too costly for participants to afford, according to a report released Monday by Alabama Appleseed, which in 2018 and 2019 surveyed 1,011 people who had participated in those specialized courts and diversion programs. 

What researchers at Alabama Appleseed found was that most people in those programs are poor, making less than $14,999 a year, and paid a median of $1,600 for those diversion programs, or more than 10 percent of their income. 

“Close to half used high-cost payday or title loan,” according to the report. “More than eight in ten gave up a necessity like food, rent, or prescription medication.” 

Advertisement
Advertisement

Carla Crowder, executive director of Alabama Appleseed, in a message to APR on Wednesday said that to the extent that the legislation expands access to diversion, it looks like a step in the right direction. 

“But so much more is needed. Real reform of Alabama’s inconsistent patchwork of diversion programs means no one is excluded because they’re too poor to pay all the fees, or cannot take off work, or have small children to care for. And our research found all of these scenarios are far too common

Crowder said that there’s also concern that the change could create new revenue streams for the various entities involved, which could result in more hardships for vulnerable low-income people charged with crimes. 

“Oftentimes new diversion programs spring up as a way to collect money from vulnerable people desperate to stay out of jail or prison. The last thing we need is more of that,” Crowder said. 

Ward told APR that there are good points raised in the Appleseed report, and while he doesn’t agree with all of the report’s suggestions for fixes, he does believe there’s room for improvement.

Among the report’s recommendations for legislators is to “Establish and enforce uniform statewide standards for all diversion programs and alternatives to incarceration.” 

Ward agrees, and said the state has “a sporadic nature of diversion programs. Some counties that work great, some not so much. Some, it’s a pay-to-play system.” 

“I do think some of these are absorbing, so I think Appleseed was correct on that,” Ward said. 

Ward also said there needs to be more uniformity among the many different specialized courts and referral programs, and he agrees with the report’s finding that there needs to be more transparency on the outcomes of such programs. 

Read the full report here

Among the the reports findings are: 

Disturbing Racial Disparities

In 2018, the Alabama Department of Corrections had 20,585 inmates in its custody population. Of those, 43 percent were white, while 56 percent were black. 

The same year the population of Community Corrections programs was nearly 60 percent white and 40 percent black. 

“The disparity between the racial demographics of the population in custody, who must bear the violence, danger, and misery of Alabama’s prisons, and the racial demographics of those in Community Corrections, who enjoy a measure of liberty, is striking,” the report reads. 

High fees

In Baldwin County, 18 months in a pretrial diversion program can cost a person  $3,010. 

The report notes that in Lee County, traffic cases can be disposed of through pretrial diversion for $673, DUIs are $1,183, while felony drug offenses cost $1,713. 

“Participants deemed poor enough for an appointed attorney can be required to pay an additional $500 in appointed attorneys fees, pushing the total cost for a felony above $2,000,” the report reads. 

Of those polled by researchers 57 percent said they’d gone without food to pay to remain in the programs, 30 percent said they’d forgone paying on medical bills or for medication to do so and 12 percent said they failed to pay child support due to the costly programs. 

“42% admitted to committing a crime to pay diversion costs and fees; 29% sold drugs; 24% stole,” the report reads. 

Lack of data, roadblocks to success 

“Alabama does not maintain any data on drug courts. The state does not maintain information about demographics, cost to participants, criminal charges, recidivism rates, length of time in drug court before graduation or termination, or any other data that would permit researchers, legislators, judges or anyone else to assess the efficacy of its drug courts.” 

Researchers noted in the report that there is an employee of the Administrative Office of Courts who is doing some of that research, but that it’s unclear if that data, if completed, will be made public. 

The difficulty of getting to required drug court appearances is exacerbated because “people are required to plead in to and attend drug courts in the jurisdiction where they are charged, not the jurisdiction where they live.” 

One man, whom researchers witnessed at a drug court in Marengo County, had to drive from his home in Etowah County to get to the court, a 364-mile round trip. 

“For drug court participants who don’t have licenses or who lack access to a vehicle of their own, this is a terrible obstacle, even an impossible one,” the report reads.

Continue Reading

Crime

Private prison company eyes Elmore County land for one of state’s new prisons

Eddie Burkhalter

Published

on

Editor’s note: The story was updated Feb. 12, 2020, to reflect that the private company Corvias has also pulled out of the procurement process. 

The private prison company CoreCivic for more than two years has been eying land just outside the city of Tallassee in Elmore county to build one of Alabama’s planned three new prisons, something several locals say they don’t want and weren’t aware of until last month. 

Meanwhile, the Elmore County Commission argues that the prison should be located on state-owned land where the closed Draper prison stands, about 30 miles west of the proposed site. 

CoreCivic’s push to get one or more of the state’s three contracts to build the prisons comes as two of the other private companies, Geo Group and Corvias, have dropped out of the running.  

The architecture firm Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood in recent weeks have been conducting surveys and soil testing of the 376 acres on Rifle Range Road, which is owned by a local man, Ken Maddox, according to tax records and interviews with residents. The property had been listed for just more than $1 million. 

If the Alabama Department of Corrections selects the site work could begin as early as the fall on a medium or maximum security prison to house between 3,100 and 3,900 incarcerated people.  

Leslie Ogburn, who lives and works on land next to the proposed site on Rifle Range Road, told APR on Sunday that local residents found out about the plan approximately two weeks ago, when land surveyors began working on the property. 

Advertisement

“There’s been a lot of backlash from the community over it,” Ogburn said. “All three of our schools would be within four miles of the prison.” 

There’s also the stigma of being a small town centered around a massive prison, Ogburn and other residents told APR on Sunday. 

Ogburn started an online petition asking residents to sign their names opposing the prison. As of Tuesday evening more than 1,5oo people had done so. She plans to deliver those signatures to Gov. Kay Ivey’s office. 

Advertisement
Advertisement

Alan Parker built a home for himself and his wife on Rifle Ridge Road three years ago to get away from bustling Montgomery, where he runs a landscaping business he told APR he’ll soon retire from. He lives about a quarter-of-a-mile down the road from the site, and said he’s worried about his property values if it’s built. 

“My wife retired from the state health department. We’re empty-nesters and just wanted to have a nice country place,” Parker said. 

He was also concerned that the matter didn’t come out from local officials sooner, and thinks the secrecy was purposeful. 

“A super-prison with 4,000 people? They would have to sneak around everybody’s back to get that in around here,” Parker said.

Alabama’s violent, overcrowded and understaffed prisons face the possibility of a federal takeover. The U.S. Department of Justice detailed the those problems in a report released in April 2019 that found that Alabama may be in violation of prisoners’ Constitutional rights. 

Under Gov. Kay Ivey’s plan, private companies would build the prisons and the state would lease and operate them. The Alabama Department of Corrections has estimated the cost of all three new prisons to be approximately $900 million. 

The proposed site on Rifle Range Road is just outside the Tallassee city limits, but falls within the city’s utility coverage area. 

Tallassee Mayor Johnny Hammock in recent days has faced public pressure for not telling residents of the proposal sooner, and on social media some questioned a trip he took to Arizona to visit CoreCivic prisons. 

Hammock told APR on Monday that shortly after taking office in October 2016 he was approached by the Elmore County Industrial Development Authority (ECIDA) asking if he knew of 2016 acres available for sale in the city’s industrial park, without saying what the land was needed for. Hammock said he told them the park had no such available property. 

Hammock said some time in 2017, although he couldn’t recall exactly when, he was again contacted by the ECIDA and told they’d located land on Rifle Ridge Road and was asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement with CoreCivic, which he did, and was told hat the company was looking at the Rifle Range Road site for a prison. 

Hammock’s first discussion with CoreCivic predates Gov Kay Ivey’s administration, and would have happened likely after former Gov. Robert Bentley in January 2017 called for a plan to build four new prisons. That plan, which would have required the state to borrow $800 million, failed. Ivey’s plan was a slight tweak of Bentley’s, cut the prisons to three and removed the need to borrow the money, instead going with a build-lease proposal.

Hammock said he later took a weeklong trip with an engineer the city uses to Arizona to see CoreCivic facilities and talk with local municipal leaders. He said the city paid for the plane tickets, some meals and for the engineer’s time spent in Arizona and work done back in Alabama drafting plans for infrastructure at the Rifle Range Road site.

Hammock said that all together, the trip and engineering work cost approximately $10,000 and that the ECIDA, Which is a separate entity from the county, paid for the hotel stay. CoreCivic paid nothing toward the trip, he said. 

About two weeks ago word began circulating around Tallassee that a private prison company might build on Rifle Range Road, Hammock said, so he called CoreCivic and said he’d have to discuss this with residents. 

“I said, ‘Hey look, I ran a campaign on transparency and I know we’re supposed to be hush-hush about this but I’m not going to lie to people,’” Hammock said. “So they said, tell them what you know.” 

Hammock has said that a prison on Rifle Ridge Road would boost the city’s utility revenues – Hammock is both the mayor of Tallassee and also the city’s superintendent of utilities – provide jobs and spur economic growth. He said more than 700 people in Elmore County work for the Alabama Department of Corrections. 

“What if they move it somewhere and it’s out of commuting distance and these people move out of our area?” Hammock said. “I have to look at it from every angle.” 

Troy Stubbs, chairman of the Elmore County Commission, told APR on Monday that the commission learned on Aug. 28, 2018, that a private prison company was looking at land in Tallassee, and that a meeting was set up the following week with Hammock, ECIDA and county officials to discuss the matter. 

County officials stressed in that meeting a desire for the prison to be located on the Draper prison site, Stubbs said, but that state law does not allow private companies to build on state-owned land. 

“We believe that that whole area has the current infrastructure in place, from water and sewer and everything else, that if it’s ready to build immediately,” Stubbs said of the Draper site. 

Stubbs said that throughout 2019 the county commission has worked with Gov. Kay Ivey’s office, Alabama Department of Corrections commissioner Jeff Dunn and state legislators to ask for an amendment to state law that would allow the Draper site to be considered. 

Asked if CoreCivic is also considering the Draper site, Stubbs said that the commission hasn’t given the company any tours of the land, but that it’s possible CoreCivic has visited it. 

Hammock said he wasn’t certain if the Draper site was still being considered by the company, and that CoreCivic doesn’t discuss with him other potential sites, but that the Draper property was in play early on. 

ADOC in statements to APR this week confirmed that Geo Group and Corvias have pulled out of the procurement process.

“The Alabama Department of Corrections is pursuing a delivery model tailored specifically to the State’s needs, which will allow the successful developer teams to finance, design, build, and maintain three new men’s prisons. This delivery model is unique in that the new facilities will not be private prisons, as the State will lease and operate the facilities,” ADOC’s statement reads.  “Participating in the procurement process requires significant investments from the developer teams; therefore, it is typical part of the process for teams to withdraw if they recognize the delivery method is not an ideal match for their business model.”

Alabama Prison Transformation Partners, a partnership including B.L. Harbert International and Star America, remain in the running, along with CoreCivic.

Both Geo Group and CoreCivic have faced increased public pushback for providing housing for immigrants for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which spurred condemnation and lawsuits over abuse of those detained. 

According to The Washington Post both private prison companies have struggled to access funding as multiple investors have stopped providing capital to private prison operators. 

APR reported in December that CoreCivic was looking to a Japanese Bank for financing, but that Birmingham-based Regions Bank continues to provide financing to CoreCivic. 

Stubbs said that the disapproval from some local residents in Tallassee over the prison proves the fact that, unlike other economic development projects, prisons are unique.

“You need the public on your side,” Stubbs said. People who live near one of the county’s two existing prisons are already used to living close to the facilities, he said. 

The Elmore Correctional Facility, classified as a medium custody facility, houses 1,176 inmates north of Montgomery, and the Staton Correctional Facility, which opened in 1978 about 12 miles west of Wetumpka, has beds 1,376 medium custody inmates. Draper prison opened in 1939 and was designed for 650 inmates. It closed in 2018. 

Stubbs said neither he nor any other commissioner or member of the ECIDA were asked by CoreCivic to sign non-disclosures, and were kept “out-of-the-loop” on the company’s plans for the Rifle Range Road site. 

Elmore County commissioner Mack Daugherty, whose district includes the Rifle Range Road site, on Jan. 30 got a call from a landowner next to the site asking why engineers were doing core samples and discussing the possibility of a prison being built, Stubbs said. 

Janice Wisener, whose family for three generations has operated a 470-acre farm that connects to the proposed prison site on Rifle Range Road, told APR on Monday that those engineers stopped in her driveway two weeks ago and said they were there to look at land next door, but declined to say why. 

“It’s a mess,” Wisener said, adding that she worries for her family’s safety if it’s built. “It’s a lot to think about.” 

Hammock said he understands why some are concerned, and that it might just cost him his reelection this year, but that he wasn’t going make things difficult for Gov. Kay Ivey’s office. Tallassee has gotten $4 million in state grants in recent years, he said. 

“I don’t know how I would feel if I lived out there on Rifle Range Road across the street from it either,” Hammock said. “It’s mixed emotions. If somebody wants to blame somebody on it, they’re probably going to blame me.” 

Proposals from the private companies are to be submitted in April, and ADOC is to make selections during middle to late summer. Work could begin on the first prison in the fall.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Authors

Advertisement

The V Podcast

Facebook

Trending

.