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Plaintiffs in Alabama forced labor suit react to court order on injunctive relief

Judge Maze acknowledged that plaintiffs had articulated valid constitutional theories for relief.

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A group of incarcerated Alabamians who are challenging Alabama’s forced labor systems expressed optimism and resolve following an order Tuesday from U.S. District Court Judge Corey L. Maze on their motion seeking preliminary injunctive relief from the unconstitutional and racially-skewed operation of Alabama’s parole board.

Although the court denied the plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary relief, Judge Maze acknowledged that plaintiffs had articulated valid constitutional theories for relief against Alabama’s parole board. Judge Maze’s order, the plaintiffs and their attorneys believe, lays out a clear roadmap for expanding on the substantial body of evidence they have already presented to the court. Between 2020 and 2022, the plaintiffs have shown, the state’s parole board began dramatically reducing parole releases and favored white parole applicants over Black applicants at a rate of more than 2 to 1.

 “While we did not prevail today, this decision makes clear that our clients can and will bring long overdue constitutional accountability to Alabama’s parole board,”said Janet Herold, Legal Director of Justice Catalyst Law and counsel for the plaintiffs. “With the helpful roadmap provided by the Court, we are confident that through discovery, we can gather the evidence to show that Alabama’s parole board since 2020 has denied parole and extended sentences compared to any point in the last 50 years, and specifically and intentionally denied parole to Black Alabamians.”

The motion, filed by seven plaintiffs in Robert Earl Council aka Kinetik Justice v. Kay Ivey, challenged the parole board’s implementation of 2019 amendments to Alabama’s Justice Reinvestment Act, which has effectively shut down any opportunity for parole consideration for thousands of people since September 2019, as violating the Ex Post Facto Clause of the U.S. Constitution, and challenged the board’s racially-skewed grants of parole as violating the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. 

The motion sought injunctive relief requiring Alabama’s parole board to return to the pre-2019 structured, evidence-based decision making based on objective standards for fitness that came close to delivering race-neutral parole decisions, and demanded that those standards be applied to all parole decisions made since October 2019. 

“Incarcerated Alabamians like me are facing an emergency every day that Alabama continues to run an unconstitutional, discriminatory parole system in its state prisons,” said Michael Campbell, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “Although we are disappointed with the court’s decision, we are still making progress in our fight for a fair chance and fair hearings, as well as our larger fight to dismantle Alabama’s scheme of forced prison labor. We are confident that, in the end, we will prevail.”

Lauren Fairano, Executive Director of The Woods Foundation and counsel to the plaintiffs, described the impact of the case: “Alabama’s parole board, with Chair Lee Gwathney at the wheel, is violating Alabamians’ constitutional rights. This lawsuit has shone a light on the shameful and racially-skewed shutdown of parole that has been orchestrated by Chair Gwathney and her allies. This case is already having an effect on the parole board’s practices, as the board is aware of increased scrutiny: since the filing of this lawsuit in early December, the parole rate has nearly quadrupled from what it was before. It’s not where it needs to be yet, but it shows that the sunshine brought to this dark corner of Alabama’s parole board’s operation is starting to work.” 

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