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Alabama pastors, faith leaders call on state to enact meaningful criminal justice reform

Eddie Burkhalter

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A group of Alabama pastors urged state lawmakers in a letter Wednesday to work on meaningful criminal justice reform to fix Alabama’s broken prison system and to help prevent young people from entering it.  

Joining the 40 pastors who signed the letter was Craig DeRoche, senior vice president of advocacy and public policy with Prison Fellowship, a Christian nonprofit based in Washington D.C. that advocates for criminal justice reform. 

DeRoche, in a message to APR on Wednesday, said that his organization supports investment in new and existing prisons in Alabama with the goal of facilitating better living conditions, and the expansion of programming, treatment, education, job training and faith-based initiatives.

“We do not support new facilities or investments meant to maintain or grow the unnecessary or ineffective use of incarceration in the justice system,” DeRoche added. 

Plagued with violence and contraband in overcrowded and understaffed facilities, Alabama’s prison crisis will be a major focus for legislators this session. The U.S. Department of Justice in April 2019 released a report calling Alabama’s prisons likely in violation of inmates’ Constitutional protections. 

Gov. Kay Ivey in her State of the State speech Tuesday continued to push her plan to build three new mega-prisons for men, through a build-lease partnership with private companies at an early estimated cost of $900,000. 

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Ivey was less specific Tuesday, however, on support for other measures, such as additional sentencing reform or expansions of educational opportunities and programs to reduce recidivism. 

DeRoche told APR that his organization is hopeful that Alabamians will embrace the opportunity to improve public safety while reducing the use of incarceration.  

“Alabama should look to retroactive sentencing reforms, such as the ones President Trump enacted in the federal First Step Act and other meaningful reforms to expand access to diversion programs and specialty courts,” DeRoche said. “Over the last ten years, many states across the nation have demonstrated the ability to face similar challenges, including Texas, which has saved millions of dollars and closed a record number of prisons. We believe that Alabama should make comprehensive criminal justice reform its priority.” 

State officials haven’t yet announced where those three new prisons might be  located, but DeRoche cautioned against consolidating many smaller prisons and moving incarcerated persons to larger prisons further away from their communities. 

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 “Locating smaller prisons closer to where the crime occurred and the prisoners’ families live, has been shown to improve public safety over large, centrally located facilities. As we learn more about the Governor’s approach to solving Alabama’s prison crisis, we would like to better understand the basis and viability of the prison proposal,” DeRoche said. 

The letter to state legislators reads: 

“As pastors and leaders of faith-based organizations that minister and provide services in Alabama, we join together to write you in support of youth and adult criminal justice reform and restoration of citizens who were formerly incarcerated. Because the good news of Jesus Christ calls the Church to advocate for biblical truth and care for the vulnerable, we, His followers, call for a criminal justice system that is fair and redemptive for our young people and restores adults who are reentering society. We believe we all have received and deserve a second chance in life.

“When young people commit delinquent acts, it damages our communities and requires proportional accountability measures. However, it is equally important that when we punish, we also provide opportunities to make amends, and offer young people who commit crime avenues to build personal character and gain back the trust of the community. The recommendations of the Alabama Juvenile Justice Task force are a substantial step in this direction.

“Likewise, for those who are returning to the community we also need to provide opportunities to make amends and offer adults who have committed crime a path to redemption. This includes offering a second chance to earn back the trust of the community and to restore themselves to their neighbors as productive and peaceful members of society.

“The United States Department of Justice recently issued a report detailing the troubling state of affairs in Alabama’s adult prison system and concluded “there is reasonable cause to believe that the men’s prisons fail to protect prisoners from prisoner-on-prisoner violence and prisoner-on-prisoner sexual abuse, and fail to provide prisoners with safe conditions.” The disturbing findings in this report must be remedied and juvenile justice reform is necessary to avoid placing young Alabamians in the failing adult prison system.

“As our churches and organizations work to reach Alabama communities with a message of hope and redemption, we ask you to consider the following guiding biblical principles as you work to change the youth justice system and criminal justice system:

  • Each human being, including those who commit crime and the victims of crime, is a person made in God’s own image, with a life worthy of respect, protection and care;
  • Accountability for youth crime should be community-based and local where possible, recognizing that cultivation of the seedbeds of virtue like families and churches pays dividends in reducing crime;
  • Punishment should be proportional to the act committed, advancing public safety, fostering accountability, and giving opportunities to make amends;
  • Appropriate avenues should be provided for personal transformation and a second chance;
  • Rehabilitation of those formerly incarcerated should include, where not prohibited by public safety concerns, restoration of the rights and privileges previously lost in order to foster their ability to become productive citizens and taxpayers in society

“As we work to preach the good news of the gospel, that redemption through Christ is available to everyone and that His sacrifice covers our sin, we ask that you take hold of these important values and usher in a new season of youth and criminal justice in Alabama.” 

The letter was also signed by: 

  • Rt. Rev. Derek Jones, Bishop, Jurisdiction of the Armed Forces and Chaplaincy
  • Anglican Church in North America in Montevallo.  
  • Dr. Douglas A. Sweeney, Dean, Beeson Divinity School at Samford University
  • Dr. Timothy George, Founding Dean, Research Professor of Divinity Beeson Divinity School, Samford University
  • Pastor Randy Walker, Correctional Ministry Pastor, Church of the Highlands in Birmingham. 
  • Pastor Ken Letson, Senior Pastor, The Church at Shelby Crossings in Calera, Alabama. 
  • Pastor Dr. Matt Mobley, Senior Pastor, Mulder Memorial United Methodist Church in Wetumpka. 
  • Rev. Dr. Gerald R. McDermott, Anglican Chair of Divinity Beeson Divinity School at Samford University. 
  • Rev. Michael Novotny, Rector, Christ the King Anglican Church in Birmingham. 
  • The Very Rev. Andrew M. Rowell, Rector, Christchurch Anglican, Dean of the Western Deanery, Gulf Atlantic Diocese, ACNA in Montgomery. 
  • The Ven. Woody Norman, Archdeacon, Jurisdiction of the Armed Forces and Chaplaincy, Anglican Church in North America, in Hoover. 
  • Rev. Walter Albritton, Pastor Emeritus, Saint James United Methodist Church in Montgomery. 
  • Wetumpka, Alabama, Rev. Douglas McCurry, Rector, Legacy Anglican Church in Montgomery. 
  • Rev. Doug McMillan, Former Vicar, St. Michael’s Anglican Church in Andalusia. 
  • Rev. Cn. Mark Quay, Rector, St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Tuscaloosa. 
  • Dcn. Andrew Brashier, Vicar, Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd, Chancellor, Jurisdiction of the Armed Forces and Chaplaincy in Pelham. 
  • Rev. Clay Farrington, Executive Pastor, Riverchase United Methodist Church in Hoover. 
  • Rev. Kyle Clark, Vicar, St. Bede’s Anglican Church in Birmingham. 
  • Rev. Dr. Cory Smith, Senior Pastor, Auburn United Methodist Church in Auburn. 
  • Rev. Dr. Gary W. Yarbrough, Chaplain/Director of Pastoral Care, Shelby Baptist Medical Center in Alabaster. 
  • Rev. Cameron Nations, Associate Rector, Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church in Birmingham. 
  • Rev. Keith Stanley, City Ministries Pastor, The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham. 
  • Rev. Geoff Hatley, Rector, St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Madison. 
  • Rev. Ben Jeffries, Vicar, Good Shepherd Anglican Church in Opelika. 
  • Rev. David Tubbs, Senior Pastor, Good Shepherd United Methodist Church in Madison. 
  • Rev. Brian K. Blackwell, Pastor, Saint Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church in Birmingham. 
  • The Rev. Mark E. Waldo, Jr., St. Michael & All Angels’ Episcopal Church in Millbrook. 
  • The Rev. Katie Nakamura Rengers, Interim Staff Officer for Church Planting, The Episcopal Church, Canonical Residency: Alabama
  • Rev. Yvonne B. Howze, Pastor – United African Methodist Episcopal Church in Fairfield. 
  • The Rev. Gary Blaylock, Rector, St. Francis at the Point Anglican Church in Fairhope. 
  • Rev. Dr. Matt Burford, Founder, Tactical Faith, Inc. in Pelham. 
  • Rev. Lydia Temonia, Pastor, Tabernacle, United Methodist Church in Dothan. 
  • Dr. Brian V. Miller, Senior Minister, Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Montgomery. 
  • Dr. Rob Couch, Lead Pastor, Christ United Methodist Church in Mobile. 
  • Rev. Dr. Patrick M. Quinn, Century UMC, Lead Pastor in Pike Road. 
  • Rev. Kathy Jorgensen, Associate Pastor, Dauphin Way UMC in Mobile. 
  • Pastor Randy Smith, Ranja Ministries in Birmingham. 
  • Pastor Janice Smith, Ranja Ministries in Birmingham. 
  • Dr. Christopher W. Crain, Executive Director, Birmingham Metro Baptist Association in Birmingham. 
  • Andy Blake, Executive Director, WorkFaith Birmingham in Birmingham. 
  • Rev. John Ryberg, Pastor, The Table UMC in Huntsville.

Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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Governor orders flags lowered in honor of former Rep. Alvin Holmes

Ivey’s directive calls for flags to be lowered on Sunday when Holmes is to be buried.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday ordered the flags at the State Capitol and in State House District 78 to be lowered to half-staff in honor of former State Rep. Alvin Holmes, a tireless advocate for the Black community who served in the House for 44 years. 

Holmes, 81, died Saturday. Ivey’s directive calls for flags to be lowered on Sunday when Holmes is to be buried and remain lowered until sunset that day. 

“A native of Montgomery, Rep. Holmes served the people of Alabama in the House of Representatives for 44 years,” Ivey wrote in her directive. “As the longest-serving representative in our state’s history, it is only fitting that we pay homage to his decades of dedicated service. Anyone that had the privilege of working with or hearing Rep. Holmes address the legislature, knows that he was passionate about his work and cared deeply about improving our state, specifically in matters regarding civil rights. His unique approach to conveying the importance of causes he supported garnered much respect from his colleagues and is something the people of our state will not soon forget. I offer my sincere condolences and prayers to his family, friends and constituents of his beloved community.”

A caravan honoring Holmes took place in Montgomery on Monday.

State Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, the chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, released a statement mourning Holmes’s passing.

“Representative Alvin Holmes was a great Democrat and a fighter,” England said. “He stood on the frontlines of the fight for civil rights and was willing to sacrifice everything in his fight for justice for all. He not only had a long and distinguished career as a civil rights leader, but also as a member of the Legislature, serving his constituents faithfully and dutifully for 44 years. Alabama has lost a giant, whose wit, intelligence, fearlessness, selfless determination, and leadership will be sorely missed. My prayers are with his friends, family, and colleagues.”

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The Alabama Senate will be under new leadership in 2021

The caucus unanimously elected Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper, as the new pro tem. 

Josh Moon

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Alabama State Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper

The Alabama Senate will be under new leadership when the 2021 legislative session begins. 

Del Marsh, who has served as president pro tem of the senate since 2010, announced that he wouldn’t be seeking a leadership role during a Republican caucus vote held Monday. The caucus unanimously elected Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper, as the new pro tem. 

The caucus also selected Clay Scofield, R-Guntersville, as the new majority leader, a position Reed has held for the last several years. 

Marsh’s decision not to seek the leadership role wasn’t particularly surprising. Numerous ALGOP lawmakers have said privately over the last two years that Marsh has toyed with the idea of stepping down and handing the position to Reed. Marsh also announced last month that he won’t seek re-election to the Senate when his term ends in 2022, bringing to a close a 24-year tenure. 

In a particularly candid interview with his hometown newspaper, the Anniston Star, in October, Marsh indicated that he had grown tired of politics altogether due to the hyper-partisan climate and was unlikely to seek any public office. He also blamed President Donald Trump for helping to create a toxic climate. 

“I’ll be darned if I want to go up there and fight all of the time,” Marsh said in the Star interview. “I don’t know what it’s going to take to end the animosity. I blame [President] Trump for part of this. What happens on the national level — the fighting and name-calling — filters down to the state.”

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For Reed and Scofield, the moves up the ladder weren’t exactly speedy. They’ve each served in the senate since 2010, and Reed has served as majority leader since 2014.

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Legislature

Caravan to honor the life of longtime State Rep. Alvin Holmes

The caravan is being organized by community activists Ja’Mel Brown and William Boyd.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

There is a car ride caravan honoring the life and service of Rep. Alvin Holmes in Montgomery at 2 p.m. Monday. The caravan is being organized by community activists Ja’Mel Brown and William Boyd.

On Saturday, Holmes passed away at age 81. He was born in 1939 into a very segregated Montgomery and spent his life battling in favor of civil rights causes. He was one of the first Black state representatives to serve in the Alabama Legislature after implementation of the Voting Rights Act.

There had been Black legislators during Reconstruction in the 1870s, but Jim Crow segregation during much of the 20th Century had effectively disenfranchised millions of Black Alabamians for generations.

Holmes served in the Alabama House of Representatives, representing House District 78 from 1974 to 2018. Holmes participated in the civil rights movement. He was a professor and a real estate broker.

The chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, State Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, released a statement mourning Holmes’s passing.

“Representative Alvin Holmes was a great Democrat and a fighter,” England said. “He stood on the frontlines of the fight for civil rights and was willing to sacrifice everything in his fight for justice for all. He not only had a long and distinguished career as a civil rights leader, but also as a member of the Legislature, serving his constituents faithfully and dutifully for 44 years. Alabama has lost a giant, whose wit, intelligence, fearlessness, selfless determination, and leadership will be sorely missed. My prayers are with his friends, family, and colleagues.”

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State Rep. Kirk Hatcher, D-Montgomery, fondly remembered Holmes, whom he defeated in the 2018 Democratic primary.

“Today we lost a dedicated warrior for social justice. Representative Alvin Holmes was a true public servant,” Hatcher said. “What an amazing legacy he has left us! He could always be seen waging the good fight for equality in all aspects of state government and beyond. His public service is legendary and without peer.”

“In recent years, I am profoundly grateful for the grace he showed me in his willingness to share with me his blueprint for effectively serving our people—and by extension the larger community,” Hatcher said. “Today, my fervent prayers are with his beloved daughter Veronica, her precious mom (and his best friend), as well as other cherished members of his family and friends as they mourn his passing. I humbly join the many voices who offer a sincere ‘Thank You’ to Mr. Alvin Holmes for his dedicated service to our Montgomery community and our state. ‘May angels sing thee to thy rest.’”

State Rep. Tashina Morris, D-Montgomery, also fondly remembered Holmes.

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“Sending Prayers to The Holmes family,” Morris said. “Alvin Holmes was the epitome of greatness working for his people!! May you Rest Well !!!”

Republican insider and former State Rep. Perry Hooper Jr. also served with Holmes in the Alabama House of Representatives and the Montgomery legislative delegation.

“I served with Alvin for 20 years in the Alabama Legislature,” Hooper said. “We often disagreed on the issues, but even after a heated floor debate, we could shake hands at the end of the day. I always considered him a friend. He loved Montgomery and he was a great representative of his district and its issues. He was always willing to go the extra mile for one of his constituents. When I served as Chairman of the Contract Review Committee, he was one of the committee’s most conscientious members. He was always questioning contracts so he could be assured that the contract represented a good use of taxpayer’s dollars which as Chairman I greatly appreciated. He was one of a kind pioneer in the Alabama Legislature and will be sorely missed.”

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill served with Holmes in the Alabama House of Representatives prior to his election as secretary of state.

“I just learned that former State Rep. Alvin Holmes passed away today,” Merrill said on social media. “I enjoyed the privilege of serving with him from 2010-14. There was never a dull moment whenever he was in the Chamber. I appreciated him for his candor & for his desire to work on behalf of his constituents!”

Holmes was a member of the Hutchinson Missionary Baptist Church, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Montgomery Improvement Association, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Alabama Southern Christian Leadership Conference Board, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He has one daughter, Veronica.

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Longtime State Rep. Alvin Holmes has died

Montgomery Fire and Rescue responded to a call at Holmes’ residence on Saturday afternoon, and they found the 81-year-old unresponsive. 

Josh Moon

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State Rep. Alvin Holmes

Alvin Holmes, a 44-year veteran of the Alabama Legislature and one of the state’s most outspoken proponents for racial inclusion, has died. Montgomery Fire and Rescue responded to a call at Holmes’ residence on Saturday afternoon, and they found the 81-year-old unresponsive. 

Over a four-decade-plus career in the Alabama House of Representatives, Holmes was a lightning rod for criticism from his fellow white lawmakers and the white voters who elected them, as he repeatedly challenged the status quo and went headlong at biases and racism that prevented more Black Alabamians from serving in positions of power in the state. 

Holmes was a foot soldier in the Civil Rights Movement in Montgomery and led the charge on getting the Confederate battle flag removed from Alabama’s Capitol building. Holmes fought many of his battles, especially the early ones, by himself, and while to his friends he would admit that standing alone wasn’t always pleasant, he never showed such hesitation outwardly, seeming to revel in the hateful words and personal attacks from other lawmakers and the public. 

Many of the fights Holmes began were later finished in federal courtrooms, and they most often led to further advancements for Black Alabamians.

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