Another Successful Parole Hearing!

AWRN is very pleased to announce another successful parole hearing! Last week, one of our advocates went to Montgomery to support a woman at her hearing. After the combined efforts in and out of prison of the AWRN advocate and the parole candidate, she was granted parole!

AWRN has helped her obtain over 9,000 days of freedom!

This is a great example of how community efforts can really make a difference in the lives of incarcerated women. If you are interested in becoming involved in AWRN’s mission to reduce the number of women in Alabama prisons, contact us at


112 New Correctional Officers on the Job

Taken from

Published November 18, 2009

Alabama Department of Corrections to add 112 more officers on Thursday

By Tom Gordon — The Birmingham News

The Alabama Department of Corrections will add 112 more correctional officers to its ranks on Thursday, bringing to 338 the number of officers who have completed the prison system’s basic training classes for 2009.

Graduation ceremonies are scheduled Thursday morning in Montgomery for the latest group of graduates. In a news release, the corrections department said the total of 338 graduates this year will be a record number.

Thursday’s ceremony will be at 11 a.m. at the Davis Theatre for the Performing Arts.

With the addition of Thursday’s graduates, the state prison system will have about 2,700 officers, and more than 100 trainees are scheduled to start classes toward the end of this month. Through August of this year, the prison system’s facilities held nearly 25,600 inmates.

Corrections spokesman Brian Corbett said the department plans to graduate four classes of officers in 2010.

‘Christmas for Kids’ program needs volunteers

Read the artcile here at or below.

By Bernie Delinski
Staff Writer

Published: Friday, November 20, 2009 at 3:30 a.m.

Debbie Dixon is bracing for a great number of requests coming her way over the next few weeks.

Dixon, a Florence woman who founded the Christmas for Kids program 17 years ago, says some 200 local children are signed up this year.

Demand is expected to be high again this year. Two events – a Dec. 5 motorcycle ride and Dec. 12 auction – will help provide some gifts and money this year, but volunteers still are needed.

“The requests don’t start pouring in until after Thanksgiving, but we already have a lot, so we’re expecting a big demand,” she said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if that number doubles in the Shoals. A bunch of kids out there need us.”

Dixon started Christmas for Kids after she had to spend the holiday without her three daughters because she was incarcerated for six months at Alabama’s Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women, for writing bad checks.

The program started small and has grown to the point where more than 1,000 children in Alabama are served annually. It also is spreading nationwide, with as many as 17 states creating Christmas for Kids programs, Dixon said.

The program calls for incarcerated parents to write a Christmas list for their children. This allows the parents to play a role in the process. Volunteers purchase the items on the list and give them to the children.

It is common for the volunteers and children to meet and the volunteer presents the gifts. Dixon said fast-food restaurants and pizza places are common meeting locations.

The Dec. 5 police-escorted motorcycle ride starts at noon at Foster Harley-Davidson, on U.S. 72 in Tuscumbia, Dixon said. Riders are asked to bring an unwrapped toy for the program. The event includes live entertainment by Iguana Party, Mary Mason and Archie Bell. The auction will be Dec. 12 at Muscle Shoals High School.

“These are two things we’ve wanted to do for a while, and everything is coming together this year to give us more exposure,” Dixon said. “Everyone is really excited about it.”

She receives help from individuals, businesses and groups. As an example, Dixon said the Christian Student Center at the University of North Alabama traditionally helps deliver gifts, and is sponsoring 15 children this year.

Anyone interested in volunteering for the program, donating to the auction or participating in the ride can call Dixon at 443-1297.

“This has gotten so big,” she said. “There’s a lot of good folks here in the Shoals, and – I don’t know if I tell them this enough – I appreciate every one of them.

“I can’t stand the thought of one child waking up and not getting something for Christmas. These kids do time just like the parents, and they haven’t done anything.”

Tina Brady, who assists with the program, said everyone’s support is needed.

“You can sign up to take as many children as you wish,” she said. “You’re given a list of what the child needs. It’s like going to the Angel Tree and taking a name down and buying gifts.

“We have a lot of people who help, but there’s always a need for more. Last year, Debbie had to turn some children away because there wasn’t enough. We don’t want to do that this year.”

NYTimes: Bright Lines Blur in Juvenile Sentencing

Read the article at here.
Published: November 23, 2009

The law is made up of rules and standards.

Here is an example of a rule, established by the Supreme Court in Roper v. Simmons in 2005: If you commit murder even hours before your 18th birthday, you cannot be put to death for your crime. The same killing a few hours later may be a capital offense. The court drew a bright-line rule at 18.

Here is an example of a standard, one proposed by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. this month at Supreme Court arguments over whether juvenile offenders may be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole: Why not, the chief justice asked, interpret the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment to require sentencing judges to consider the defendant’s age on a case-by-case basis?

“If you do have a case where it’s the 17-year-old who is one week shy of his 18th birthday and it is the most grievous crime spree you can imagine, you can determine that in that case life without parole may not be disproportionate,” Chief Justice Roberts said. “If it’s a less grievous crime and there is, for example, a younger defendant involved, then in that case maybe it is disproportionate.”

The lawyers in the two cases the court heard — one involving a rape committed by a 13-year-old, the other an armed burglary by a 16-year-old — had at least two answers to the chief justice’s proposal. One was that it is too soon to tell at sentencing whether unformed teenagers will later change for the better. The other was that states already take age into account but do so in very different ways.

According to a report from researchers at Florida State University, just two states, Florida and Louisiana, have imprisoned 94 of the nation’s roughly 110 juvenile offenders sentenced to die in prison for crimes in which no one was killed.

But there is a third possible retort, one that draws on the Supreme Court’s 2002 decision in Atkins v. Virginia barring the execution of the mentally retarded. That sounds like a rule, in that it made an entire class of people categorically ineligible for the death penalty. But it turns out to be a standard.

Proving age is pretty straightforward, and inmates who were under 18 when they committed the crimes that sent them to death row promptly had their sentences commuted after the court’s decision in Roper. The Atkins decision, on the other hand, “has spawned extensive, intricate and bitterly contested litigation,” Carol S. Steiker and Jordan M. Steiker wrote in the DePaul Law Review last year.

The Supreme Court in Atkins said mental retardation requires proof of three things: “subaverage intellectual functioning,” meaning low IQ scores; a lack of fundamental social and practical skills; and that both conditions were present before age 18. The court said IQ scores under “approximately 70” typically indicate retardation.

How has this standard been applied in practice?

A new study from three law professors at Cornell, one that resonates with potential lessons for juvenile life without parole, shows that states making case-by-case determinations have taken wildly different approaches.

The study, conducted by John H. Blume, Sheri Lynn Johnson and Christopher Seeds, tried to collect all determinations concerning retardation in capital cases in the six years after Atkins, finding 234. That means about 7 percent of the nation’s roughly 3,200 death row inmates have claimed to be mentally retarded.

Nationwide, the claims have succeeded about 38 percent of the time. But state success rates vary widely.

North Carolina courts heard 21 Atkins claims and ruled in the inmate’s favor 17 times. Alabama courts heard 26 claims and ruled for the inmate 3 times.

Recall that the Supreme Court said an IQ of “approximately 70” should usually satisfy the first part of the test. In Alabama, Mississippi and Texas, four inmates with IQ scores of 66 and 67 were held not to be retarded. But in Pennsylvania, an inmate whose score ranged from 70 to 75 won an Atkins claim. In California, a score of 84 did the trick.

Professor Johnson said there was a lesson here.

“If you look at Atkins, which is supposed to be a categorical rule but has some play in the definitions, you get enormous pushback from the states that don’t want to do it,” she said. Were the court to adopt Chief Justice Roberts’s approach for juvenile life without parole, she added, “the problem of Atkins’s application would be greatly magnified.”

Yet there is an obvious appeal to the chief justice’s suggestion.

“If you go down on a case-by-case basis, there are no line-drawing problems,” he said at the arguments this month. “You just simply say age has to be considered as a matter of the Eighth Amendment.”

Justice Antonin Scalia objected. He had dissented in Atkins and Roper, and he was not brimming with sympathy for the two juvenile offenders in the cases before the court.

His problem with Chief Justice Roberts’s proposal was grounded in a preference for easily applied binary rules over mushy standards that give judges too much power.

“And then we apply a totality-of-the-circumstances test,” Justice Scalia said dismissively of the chief justice’s proposal, “which means, ‘whatever seems like a good idea.’ ”

Group threatens fines for inmate’s death records

After the jump, please read an article published in today’s Tuscaloosa News regarding the Alabama Department of Corrections’ delay on releasing inmate records to the Southern Center for Human Rights.

Making the punishment fit the crime

Read the article at or below.

By M.J. Ellington
Montgomery Bureau

Published: Monday, November 16, 2009 at 3:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, November 15, 2009 at 11:12 p.m.

MONTGOMERY – Alabama’s corrections commissioner said he’s given up on ever having enough money to build facilities for alternative programs to help keep nonviolent inmates from returning to prison.

But Commissioner Richard Allen said without the money to build new LIFE Tech centers around the state, he’s putting the program at existing facilities, including Decatur Work Release facility. Corrections added 200 beds for the program in space originally used for other purposes at the Decatur facility for men in 2008.

But LIFE Tech is just one example of several programs the state is trying to reduce the prison population and keep offenders from coming back later.

Not everyone agrees on whether people sentenced to prison should have alternatives to “hard time.” Others say with bulging, outdated prisons and a prison population that only gets larger, Alabama has little choice but to look at other programs for solutions.

Allen said Alabama must try alternatives. He asks a question that has become a cliche in the corrections field but makes a point about the choices people sending others to prison must make.

“Do we want to reserve prison beds for people we are afraid of or do we want to fill them up with people we are mad at?” he asked.

Allen said he believes people who commit violent crimes belong in maximum security prison, but nonviolent offenders might pay their debt to society more effectively elsewhere.

Technical violators are one example. People on probation who fail to meet with their probation officer, fail a drug test or miss a restitution payment often go back to prison. Allen said such violators would be appropriate for community technical violation programs instead.

As the state tries drug courts, alternative sentencing and community corrections to reduce the prison population, some lawmakers say the state is headed in the right direction.

But other legislators say while the state has desperate prison overcrowding, they still need data showing long-term results on different programs to know what works best.

Allen said Decatur’s LIFE Tech-style program for men combines substance abuse treatment, counseling, reading skills/GED preparation and job preparation with incarceration. Most nonviolent inmates serving time in state prison have those needs, he said.

Lauderdale County District Attorney Chris Connolly is among people who think that some offenders the state classifies as nonviolent should start out in prison.

Connolly said he was surprised and frustrated that a Florence woman did not serve at least five years of her sentence before she became eligible for parole. The parole board denied her early release.

Connolly said the woman sold drugs near a school and a day care center. Some of her customers are in maximum security prison while she is at Birmingham Work Release Facility. “Is that really nonviolent?” Connolly asked.

Allen said the issue of where inmates go to serve their time is under constant review. District attorneys and judges do not always agree that something other than maximum security prison is the right way to go.

Alabama counties that account for 83 percent of all prison sentences now have community corrections programs. Allen said he wants the alternatives in all counties.

“We are doing everything we can to reduce the population but we’re averaging 62 more per month coming in than a year ago,” Allen said.

But 40 percent of new inmates have split sentences that require a specific amount of prison time served before they are even eligible for parole.

The state buys beds in a private therapeutic inpatient program in Columbiana, a private prison in South Alabama and in some county jails that agreed to lease the state bed space.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, said Alabama needs to find a way to make the punishment fit the crime.

Some crimes demand that the offender do hard time, Black said. But there is a “very, very serious overcrowding problem” in prisons, Black said, and the state must look for alternatives.

“We have to find a way to be smart in sentencing,” he said.

Another legislator who worked in law enforcement for 25 years, including time as an FBI hostage negotiator and an Alabama court referral officer, agrees.

Rep. Mac McCutcheon, R-Capshaw, said the state is trying a number of programs right now.

“We need to see results from several years to know how successful they are,” McCutcheon said.

“I am definitely not opposed to the idea of alternative programs. I feel like we are headed in the right direction but we don’t know yet which ones work best and which ones interact most effectively,” he said.

M.J. Ellington is the Montgomery bureau chief for the TimesDaily.

Don’t Forget: Books 2 Prisons Open House and Fundraiser TODAY


Books to Prisons Open House and Fundraiser: 6 p.m. at Hallelujah House, 2209 11th St. Tuscaloosa, AL

Music, appetizers, silent auction, gifts for all budgets for purchase. The guest speaker will be Catherine Roden-Jones, cooordinator for Alabama Women’s Resource Network. Question-and-answer session afterward.