by Frank Knaack, Executive Director
If you had asked your legislator last year about their stance on civil asset forfeiture, jail food, or marijuana reclassification you would likely have heard confusion about the first two and opposition to the third. That’s no longer the case.
While our legislation to end civil asset forfeiture, stop sheriffs from personally profiting from money meant to feed people in their jails, and reclassify the possession of small amounts of marijuana as a civil offense did not pass the legislature, we made substantial progress.
In January we, along with the Southern Poverty Law Center, released a report documenting serious abuses occurring under Alabama’s civil asset forfeiture laws. It documented how laws meant to go after drug kingpins have been turned into tools for law enforcement to supplement their budgets by taking property from innocent Alabamians. The report catapulted the issue into the public debate and set the stage for bipartisan supported legislation to end this abusive program in Alabama.
While the legislation did not pass the full legislature, it did pass the Senate and is well positioned to prevail next session.
We will continue to face opposition from law enforcement, who make millions of dollars each year from civil asset forfeiture. Fortunately, sunlight has finally penetrated this long-abused program …
- Al.com – Alabama lawmakers propose ending civil asset forfeiture by police
- Montgomery Advertiser – Alabama lawmakers propose ending civil asset forfeiture by police
- WSFA – AL civil forfeiture laws go under the microscope
- WTVM – Lawmakers push for bill to end civil forfeiture
- WTVY – Alabama lawmakers propose ending civil asset forfeiture by police
- Dothan First – Civil Asset Forfeiture
- Fox – Despite promises to cut back, fed and state governments press asset forfeitures
- Reason – Alabama Raked in $2.2 Million in Civil Asset Forfeiture in 2015
- Esquire – Ethics Issues? Just Torpedo the Ethics Committee!
Our work with the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) to stop sheriffs from personally pocketing taxpayer money meant to feed people in their jails has also dominated the news. In January we, with SCHR, filed a lawsuit challenging the refusal of 49 Alabama sheriffs to produce public records showing whether, and if so by how much, they have personally profited from funds allocated for feeding people in their jails. As Connor Sheets’ terrific reporting has shown, sheriffs are becoming rich (from taxpayer dollars) while the people in their jails are fed food “not fit for human consumption.”
Our work with the SCHR will continue until all sheriffs understand that taxpayer dollars given to them to purchase food for people in their jails are to be used to purchase food for people in their jails.
In the meantime, sheriffs who oppose our position may want to read this …
- Times Daily – Statewide legislation would change jail food law
- WBRC – 49 Alabama sheriffs being sued over jail food money
- AL.com – Dietary needs unmet in some Alabama jails as concerns mount on use of sheriff food accounts
- AL.com – Alabama legislation could stop Etowah sheriff from keeping jail food money
- Yellowhammer – Alabama sheriff pocketing $750,000 in jail-food money draws new attention to old law
- WCBI – Lawsuit Filed Against 49 Alabama Sheriffs
- AL.com – Alabama sheriffs pocket tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars allocated to feed inmates
- WAAY – 6 North Alabama Sheriffs Named in Lawsuit over Funds for Feeding Inmates
- Lagniappe – Lawsuit seeks transparency in sheriffs’ food funds
- CBS News – Alabama sheriff legally used $750K in inmate food funds to buy beach house
- Daily Kos – Meet the Alabama sheriff who kept hundreds of thousands in inmate food funds for personal use
- National Review – Alabama Sheriff Used $750,000 in Taxpayer Funds to Purchase Houses
- Newsweek – Alabama Sheriff Allegedly Purchased Home with Money Meant to Feed Jail Inmates
- ABA Journal – 49 Alabama sheriffs are sued over refusal to say whether they pocketed leftover inmate-meal money
- The Daily Beast – Alabama Sheriffs Filled Their Wallets by Starving Prisoners
- Associated Press – Groups sue, aim to learn if sheriffs profit from jail food
- Associated Press – Enjoying leftovers: Sheriffs feed inmates, keep extra cash
- AL.com – When sheriffs go bad, public records are the best defense
- AL.com – Alabama sheriff pocketed more than he spent on jail food
- AL.com – 49 Alabama sheriffs hide jail food funds, flout open records law
We also saw major progress with our work to reclassify marijuana possession in Alabama. Every year Alabama needlessly ensnares thousands of people in the criminal justice system for the mere possession of marijuana. This policy decision is costing Alabama taxpayers over $10 million each year and misuses law enforcement resources. Worse, it is enforced along color lines. While African Americans and whites use marijuana at roughly equal rates, in 2016 African Americans were over 4.5 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in Alabama.
Earlier this year, a bipartisan effort to reclassify the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana as a fine-only offense passed the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee. While that might not seem like a big deal, it is. Members from both parties in the Alabama legislature have now gone on the record in support. We will continue to educate Alabamians about the need for this common sense reform and hope to prevail in 2019.