Jefferson County voters are asking the District Attorney candidates to pledge to end debtor’s prison prior to going to the polls on November 6th. People across Alabama are being jailed and saddled with criminal records simply because they couldn’t afford to pay court fines and fees. Circulating on social media is a petition that calls for the next DA of Jefferson County, either Mike Anderton or Danny Carr, to agree to policies that will relieve the burden poor people in the criminal justice carry.
“We have heard from community members who are concerned about this election, and who want to make sure their voices are heard by the candidates. We decided to put this petition together to ensure that people had a vehicle to get to the candidates,” said Rebecca Seung-Bickley of the Alabama ACLU.
Signers are “asking the district attorney candidates to pledge that if elected, they will apply an objective standard to determining eligibility to diversion programs and ensure equal access to diversion programs regardless of wealth.” Diversion programs shouldn’t “hinge on whether or not someone can afford to pay money to receive help or treatment, instead the only factor should be whether they are a fit for the program,” says Keli Young, an attorney with The Justice Collaborative Engagement Project.
The petition also states that signers are “asking the district attorney candidates to pledge to voluntarily disclose revenue from all sources, by source, on a yearly basis, if elected.” As noted by Alabama Appleseed, in their recent report that can be found here, jurisdictions may be relying on fines and fees for county budgets but without reporting requirement tax payers have no way of knowing.
The Alabama Appleseed report discovered that the burden of paying fines and fees to stay out of jail actually makes communities less safe, the petition asks “the district attorney candidates to pledge that, if elected, they will advocate in the legislature for the elimination of the current court debt system as it makes communities less safe when people commit crimes to pay their court debt.”
According to data on file with The Justice Collaborative, in the month of July alone over one-third of the people in the Jefferson County Jail were there on failure to appear, some never never received notice of a court date. Appleseed noted that more people are charged with failing to appear than any other charge in the state in 2016. Concerned voters are signing this petition to urge “ the district attorney candidates to pledge that, if elected, when people miss court dates, determine whether they are in government custody and argue that the court not issue a warrant if they are.”
The petition also asks the candidates to pledge that if they are elected they will gather race-based data within their first year of office and share quarterly with the public all ‘charging, bail, sentencing, and plea bargaining recommendations made by the office, with demographic information and implement a plan to eliminate any racial or other disparities shown in the data.”