« Fourth Circuit panel finds probation sentence for abusive police officer procedurally and substantively unreasonable | Main | "Crime and Punishment. Crime Rates and Prison Population in Europe" »

December 5, 2021

Three deep dives into ugly realities of Alabama's justice system

One often hears talk of Texas justice being unique, but there are really distinctive stories to tell about criminal justice realities in every state.  To that end, consider three new lengthy recent pieces about crime and punishment in Alabama.  I recommend all of these deep dives:

From AL.com, "Alabama parole rate far short of board’s own recommended guidelines"

From Politico, "‘A humanitarian crisis’: Why Alabama could lose control of its dangerous prisons: Alabama sends so many people to prison that the state can no longer safely house its inmates, consequences of a tough-on-crime mentality among politicians and the public that keeps aggressive sentencing laws on the books."

From the New York Times, "He Never Touched the Murder Weapon. Alabama Sentenced Him to Die.: Nathaniel Woods was unarmed when three Birmingham police officers were fatally shot by someone else in 2004.  But Woods, a Black man, was convicted of capital murder for his role in the deaths of the three white officers."

December 5, 2021 at 12:00 PM | Permalink


These reports provide great insight into Alabama's probation system, but they ignore the most important trends in Alabama prisons: Alabama’s prison population fell 23% from July 2012 through July 2021; The number of prisoners under age 21 fell 91% from 2000 to 2021, as prisoners ages 21-25 fell 70%; Prisoners ages 26-30 peaked in 2009 and fell 44% from 2009-2021; Prisoners ages 31-35 peaked in 2012 and fell 33% from 2012-2021. As a result, the percent of Alabama prisoners over the age of 50 rose from 7% in 2000 to 25% in 2021. The prison population decline is not due to criminal justice reform efforts, it is due to massive ongoing declines in offending by younger age groups, and this same pattern is seen nationwide.
The best argument against the Alabama plan to build new prisons is the fact that those prisons will be mostly empty long before the 30-year financing for them is paid off. Unfortunately, almost nobody on either side of the crime and incarceration debate wants talk about the astonishing ongoing declines in youth offending and incarceration, and the fact that those trends are already cascading through older age groups because adult onset criminal offending is extremely rare.

Posted by: Rick Nevin | Dec 5, 2021 2:36:49 PM

Aren’t two of the thugs that set on Ahmaud Arbery nom-triggermen? Why yes! So it’s interesting that the Times has no sense of irony.

I’m not saying that Arbery’s killers shouldn’t eat the whole meal—what I am saying is that liberals don’t see the inconsistency in their views.

Posted by: Federalist | Dec 6, 2021 7:25:07 AM

Federalist: I am not aware that anyone faced the death penalty, let alone will be executed, for the Arbery killing. Are you meaning to suggest that the death penalty is the proper punishment in the Arbery case and other non-triggermen cases? I surmise abolitionists --- which the Times' editorial board has been --- are consistently against the death penalty in all these cases.

Posted by: Doug B. | Dec 6, 2021 1:14:13 PM

Doug, your response misses the boat. The times is highlighting the problem with non-triggermen and punishment. And you yourself lump this in with ugly reality of Alabama.

If you’re cool with the arbery defendants one and all eating them whole meal, then you’re cool with LWOP at least for mr woods.

Personally, I look at the defendants as no better than common criminals who commit armed robbery. I would have had zero problems with the death penalty in that case. Judging from what I’ve seen of the evidence, if I were on the jury, they would have gotten death.

Posted by: Federalist | Dec 6, 2021 2:34:18 PM

Federalist, your comment misses the fact that the Times piece stresses the Woods case because it involves the death penalty. The fact this is a death penalty case/concern is reflected in the main headline, and in the sub-headline, and in quotes from capital punishment experts, and in the story ending with Woods' execution.

Meanwhile, there are likely thousands of persons in the US serving LWOP as non-trigger men (remember Kuntrell Jackson, he got LWOP at age 14 as a lookout during a Arkansas video story robbery gone bad). I cannot recall the Times doing any recent big pieces on LWOP non-trigger sentences, even though there have been recent notable reports by The Sentencing Project and FAMM and others decrying how many jurisdictions use LWOP sentences too extensively. The Times piece is fundamentally criticizing capital punishment, not other non-trigger punishments much as you would like to trump up some inconsistency here --- and there are surely many other areas where NYT inconsistency is palpable, so no need to stretch here.

Put simply, the Times story is meant to be about capital unfairness, not LWOP unfairness. Moreover, many abolitionists (like the NYT) tend to be fans of LWOP as an alternative to death. I presume they and others would say Woods getting LWOP would have been more just than his death sentence and execution. I assume they would also say they'd rather the Arbery killers not get death sentences.

That you want the death penalty for the Arbery defendants is interesting, though how far do you want to go with non-trigger death penalty punishments? Are you sorry Kuntrell Jackson lived?

Posted by: Doug Berman | Dec 6, 2021 4:14:49 PM

Kuntrell Jackson was 14–I would not have supported death or LWOP for him.

Posted by: Federalist | Dec 6, 2021 4:51:07 PM

Federalist --

I know quite a few people in the pro-capital punishment corner, and not one of them supports the DP for 14 year-old's. So you have ample company.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 6, 2021 11:20:04 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB