The ACLU of Alabama filed a public records request Monday seeking a full roster of everyone who is being held in the Birmingham City Jail, the date of their booking, and the charge(s) for which they are being held.
The group claims that they made an attempt on Friday May 8, to get the information but were thwarted by staff at the Birmingham City Jail and Birmingham Police Department. The police were unwilling to release this information, even though the ACLU claims that it should be openly available to any citizen as a matter of public record.
“Citizens are entitled to know who is being held in taxpayer-funded jails and why, and that information has never been more critical than in the current COVID-19 pandemic,” said investigative reporter Beth Shelburne. “A jail roster, which is public information, should be readily available to anyone who asks for it. It should not require credentials or a formal open records request. If Birmingham police are unwilling to release the list of people inside the city jail, along with how long they have been there and why they are there, we have to wonder what they are trying to hide.”
Shelburne wrote in her letter, “Under the Alabama Open Records Law, Ala. Code § 36-12-40 to § 36-12-41, I am requesting the roster from the Birmingham City Jail to include all people in custody, date of booking, and charge(s) for which they are being held.”
“I would like to request a waiver of all fees in that the disclosure of the requested information is in the public interest,” Shelburne continued. “I currently work as a freelance journalist and I anticipate this information will be used in my reporting for The Campaign for Smart Justice with ACLU of Alabama. This information is not being sought for commercial purposes. The statute requires a response in a reasonable time period. If access to the records I am requesting will take longer than three business days, please contact me with information about when I might expect copies or the ability to inspect the requested records. If you deny any or all of this request, please cite each specific exemption you feel justifies the refusal to release the information and notify me of the appeal procedures available under the law.”
The ACLU of Alabama claims that Alabama jails and imprisons an excessive number of citizens.