Stop Jefferson County's Debtors' Prisons

Each year, Alabama’s courts assess millions of dollars in court costs, fines, fees, and restitutions. Most of this money is sent to fund government projects. The brunt of this hidden tax is disproportionately borne by poor people — particularly by poor people of color.

A new report by Greater Birmingham Ministries and Alabama Appleseed chronicles the experiences of nearly 1,000 Alabamians who are paying court debt either for themselves or for other people. It reveals how people across Alabama are being put in jail and saddled with criminal records simply because they couldn’t afford to pay court fines and fees. Under this "debtors' prison" system, people who commit the same offense can face very different punishments because of nothing more than how much money they have.

Some people were turned down for a diversion program like drug court, which would prevent them from getting a permanent criminal record only because they could not afford it. Meanwhile, other people have warrants issued for their arrest for missing court dates because of inadequate notice, lack of access to transportation, or because they were already incarcerated. This system forces people to choose between paying for basic necessities like food and medicine, and paying their court debt

This is happening right here in Jefferson County. We demand that our elected officials stop this fines and fees system that hurts people, undermines public safety, and drives Alabama’s racial wealth divide.

The time is now. There is an upcoming district attorney election on Tuesday, November 6. The district attorneys have the power to address these issues and stop Alabama from having debtors prisons! Please sign the petition and demand that the candidates for district attorney pledge to stop punishing Alabamians simply for being poor.

I am 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.

I am asking the district attorney candidates to pledge to voluntarily disclose revenue from all sources, by source, on a yearly basis, if elected.

I am asking 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.

I am asking 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.

I am asking the district attorney candidate to pledge that, if elected, they will gather race-based data within their first year of office.

I am asking the district attorney candidates to pledge that, if elected, they will quarterly share 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.