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Under Pressure: How fines and fees hurt people, undermine public safety, and drive Alabama’s racial wealth divide

October 10, 2018

Each year, Alabama's municipal, district, and circuit courts assess millions of dollars in court costs, fines, fees, and restitution. Most of this money is sent to the state General Fund, government agencies, county and municipal funds, and used to finance pet projects.This hidden tax is disproportionately borne by poor people – particularly by poor people of color. In Alabama, African Americans are arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at higher rates than white people. For example, while African Americans and white people use marijuana at roughly the same rate, African Americans are over four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in Alabama. This report is an eort to examine, in detail, the collateral consequences of Alabama's court debt system and explore the ways in which it undermines public safety and drives the state's racial wealth divide. It is a product of our work with the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Southern Partnership to Reduce Debt, which is developing strategies to lessen the impact of criminal and civil judicial fines and fees, as well as medical fees and high-cost consumer products, on communities of color.We surveyed 980 Alabamians about their experience with court debt, asking how court costs, fines, and fees had affected their daily lives. Study participants included 879 "justice-involved" individuals who were paying their own court debt for offenses ranging from traffic violations to felonies, and 101 people who did not themselves owe court debt but were paying debt for other people. We analyzed results for the two groups separately and conducted a further analysis of the 810 justice-involved individuals who had also helped others pay off their debt.

Civil Asset Forfeiture: Forfeiting Your Rights

January 16, 2018

The study examined 1,110 cases in 14 counties, representing 70% of the 1,591 civil asset forfeiture cases filed in Alabama in 2015. It found:- Courts awarded $2.2 million to law enforcement agencies in 827 disposed cases.- In a quarter of the cases filed, criminal charges were not brought against the person whose property was seized, resulting in the forfeiture of more than $670,000.- The state won 84% of disposed cases against property owners not charged with crime.- In 55% percent of cases where criminal charges were filed, the charges were related to marijuana. In 18% of cases where criminal charges were filed, the charge was simple possession of marijuana and/or paraphernalia.- In 64% of cases where criminal charges were filed, the defendant was black (African Americans comprise 27 percent of state's population).- In half of the cases, the amount of cash was $1,372 or less.

Civil asset forfeiture: Unfair, undemocratic, and un-American

October 1, 2017

Since the advent of the War on Drugs, law enforcement agencies have used civil asset forfeiture laws to strip Americans of billions of dollars in cash, cars, real estate, and other assets. Under these state and federal laws, officers are legally empowered to seize property they believe is connected to criminal activity -- even if the owner is never charged with a crime. In most states, the agencies are entitled to keep the property or, more typically, the proceeds from its sale.

The Trump Effect: The Impact of The 2016 Presidential Election on Our Nation's Schools

November 28, 2016

In the first days after the 2016 presidential election, the Southern Poverty Law Center's Teaching Tolerance project administered an online survey to K-12 educators from across the country. Over 10,000 teachers, counselors, administrators and others who work in schools have responded. The survey data indicate that the results of the election are having a profoundly negative impact on schools and students. Ninety percent of educators report that school climate has been negatively affected, and most of them believe it will have a long-lasting impact. A full 80 percent describe heightened anxiety and concern on the part of students worried about the impact of the election on themselves and their families.

Unsafe at These Speeds: Alabama's Poultry Industry and its Disposable Workers

March 1, 2013

Every day in Alabama, thousands of people report to work at vast poultry processing plants. Inside these frigid plants, workers stand almost shoulder-to-shoulder as chicken carcasses zip by on high-speed processing lines. Together, small teams of workers may hang, gut or slice more than 100 birds in a single minute. It's a process they'll repeat for eight hours or more in order to prepare birds for dinner tables and restaurants across America.This grueling work serves as the foundation of a lucrative industry that supplies the country's most popular meat. It's an industry with an $8.5 billion impact on the state -- generating about 75,000 jobs and 10 percent of Alabama's economy -- and one that plays a vital economic role in numerous small towns. But it all comes at a steep price for the low-paid, hourly workers who face the relentless pressure of the mechanized processing line. This is the face of the modern poultry industry in Alabama -- an industry unfettered by serious regulation and blessed with a vulnerable workforce that has lacked a voice in the halls of government and has little power to effect change. This report presents survey findings and examines how flawed policy, lack of oversight and weak enforcement has allowed this exploitation to thrive. It also offers recommendations to end it.