Responding to an exploding prison overcrowding crisis in Alabama, the state conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) recently passed a resolution which supports the Alabama New Bottom Line Campaign in decrying the war on drugs and calling for effective alternatives. The resolution, signed by a coalition of state legislators, community and faith leaders, and advocates, identified the war on drugs as the driving force behind the explosion of Alabama's prison population. The resolution passed at the Alabama NAACP's meeting of the state executive committee after being introduced by NAACP State Prison Project Chair and New Bottom Line Campaign Co-Director, Reverend Kenneth Glasgow.
A recent report by Justice Strategies, a research group, found that the rapid growth in Alabama's prison population - which ranks fifth nationally - was fueled by the incarceration of people convicted of non-violent offenses, primarily drug possession. African Americans, who make up approximately 25 percent of Alabama's population, constitute 60 percent of the state's prison inmates and have been hit especially hard by prison expansion and overcrowding, even though national figures show that drug use is equal between whites and African Americans.
"...The war on drugs is driving Alabama's disastrous prison overcrowding crisis. The crisis cannot be solved by the construction of new prisons, but must be solved through wise, economical, and compassionate policy changes that deal with drug use and abuse first and foremost as a public health issue..." the resolution reads.
"Our state is in a crisis because we've been locking people up for addiction and drug use, which is really a public health issue," said Rev. Glasgow "We need to solve this crisis using the guiding principle of restoration. Getting the NAACP and other state leaders to join the New Bottom Line Campaign in this struggle brings us one step closer to creating a new bottom line in Alabama, where restoration is our goal."
The resolution was endorsed by a diverse coalition that included House speaker Pro Tem, Rep. Demetrius Newton, Sen. Myron Penn, Rep. Laura Hall and Cynthia Dillard, deputy director of the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles.
The resolution calls for:
- Further legislation that will repeal mandatory minimum sentences, divert nonviolent drug offenders out of prison and into community-based treatment programs;
- Legislation addressing the war on drugs in Alabama to be measured by a standard that reduces the effects of substance abuse, addiction, and unjust drug polices, while increasing public safety, promoting education and job training, and developing a public health approach to drug use;
- The creation of a State Oversight Committee, which will include state, county, and city elected officials, community, religious and business leaders, and formerly incarcerated people to provide oversight of the state's prison and jail system to ensure compliance with state, national, and international laws regarding health and human rights.
- The restoration of voting rights for those persons who have a felony record and have completed their incarceration.
"The NAACP has a long, proud tradition of fighting for equality, justice, and fairness. What is fair about racial disparities, wasted tax dollars, and failed policies? Fixing the prison overcrowding crisis won't be easy, but it won't happen by repeating failures, either," said Alabama NAACP president Ed Vaughn.
The goal of the resolution is to advance a drug policy agenda that prioritizes a public health approach instead of a punitive incarceration-based strategy to drug policy. During the statewide executive committee meeting, NAACP leaders moved to increase efforts to end the prison overcrowding crisis in Alabama. The resolution also calls for the passage of legislation that moves the state closer to ending the state prison crisis.
"The war on drugs is a 35 year failure, not only in Alabama, but across the country," said Gabriel Sayegh, director of the State Organizing and Policy Project of the Drug Policy Alliance. "We lock people up for low-level drug use and addiction, and what has that gotten us? We now have the biggest prison and jail population in the entire world even though it's drug treatment and education is cheaper and more effective than incarceration. We need to approach drug policies through a public health framework, because as the prison crisis in Alabama shows, trying to jail our way out of this problem is simply ridiculous." National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
Alabama State Conference
A Resolution Calling for a New Bottom Line in Alabama
WHEREAS, the war on drugs has failed: every community in the US contends with the harmful effects of drug abuse and related problems, and while states have continually increased their expenditures to wage the war on drugs, policies which rely heavily on arrest and incarceration have proved costly and ineffective at addressing these issues and;
WHEREAS, the war on drugs is a major force driving the incarceration of over 2.1 million people in the United States, with almost 28,000 incarcerated in Alabama alone, with African Americans, Latinos, and the poor disproportionately represented in our country's and our state's overflowing jails and prisons and;
WHEREAS, the war on drugs is a driving Alabama's disastrous prison overcrowding crisis. The crisis cannot be solved by the construction of new prisons, but must be solved through wise, economical, and compassionate policy changes that deal with drug use and abuse first and foremost as a public health issue, and;
WHEREAS, the war on drugs perpetuates mandatory minimums, felony disfranchisement, disproportionate over-incarceration, poor access to healthcare, under-funded public education, widespread unemployment, and the general criminalization of communities of color in the US and in Alabama, and;
WHEREAS, paying for the war on drugs means spending limited tax dollars on failed policies instead of proven solutions. Americans spend approximately $140 billion annually on prisons and jails including $24 billion spent on incarcerating over 1.2 million non-violent offenders. In Alabama in 2005, the Department of Corrections spent over $300 million on keeping people incarcerated, while our education system is in shambles. In many states (such as New York and California), spending on prisons far surpasses spending on education and;
WHEREAS, harm reduction strategies, including access to affordable community-based drug treatment, along with educational and economic opportunities, have shown to be successful at reducing the harms of drug misuse and the spread of disease such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C, yet more than half of those Americans in need of drug treatment do not have access to it and;
WHEREAS, African Americans are less likely to sell or misuse illicit drugs than white Americans, yet African Americans experience highly disproportionate levels of death, disease, incarceration, crime and suffering due both to drug misuse and to misguided drug policies. In the United States, African-Americans comprise only 12.2 percent of the population and 13 percent of drug users, yet they make up 38 percent of those arrested for drug offenses and 59 percent of those convicted of drug offenses. In Alabama, African Americans are but 23% of the state population, but comprise over 63% of all prison inmates, and;
WHEREAS, our common goal and duty is to advocate those policies which increase the health and welfare of our communities, and to reduce the abominable racial disparities both in criminal justice and in access to drug treatment and other services and;
WHEREAS, taking steps to reduce the incarceration of non-violent offenders and increasing the availability of treatment not only makes fiscal sense, but is sound public policy that is being implemented in states throughout the country (such as in Maryland, New Mexico, and California) and;
WHEREAS, we believe that nonviolent substance abusers are not menaces to our communities but rather a troubled yet integral part of our community who need to be reclaimed and restored,
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED BY THE ALABAMA STATE CAUCUS OF THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE THAT THE ALABAMA NAACP HEREBY:
- Calls for passage of HB 115 / SB 231, the Sentencing Commission bill to create voluntary sentencing guidelines for the state of Alabama, as but one step to address the severe crisis facing our criminal justice system;
- Calls for further legislation that will the repeal mandatory minimum sentences, divert nonviolent drug offenders out of prison and into community-based treatment programs, and stop the flow of people needing treatment or transitional services from recidivating on parole/probation solely for drug use;
- Calls for legislation addressing the war on drugs in Alabama be measured by a standard that reduces the effects of substance abuse, addiction, and unjust drug policies, while increasing public safety, thereby creating a new bottom line.
- Calls for the creation of a State Oversight Committee, which will include state, county, and city elected officials, community, religious and business leaders, and formerly incarcerated people to provide oversight of the state's prison and jail system to ensure compliance with state, national, and international laws regarding health and human rights;
- Calls for and demands the restoration of voting rights for those persons who have a felony record and have completed their incarceration.
- Resolves to work on promoting sustainable, proven alternatives to incarceration and the restoration of all Alabama communities.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this resolution seeks to advance a public health, not a criminal justice approach, to drug policy, and declares the intention of the Alabama State NAACP to work diligently with the New Bottom Line Campaign in wise efforts to end the prison overcrowding crisis and set Alabama on a new path