Living in poverty has always been a struggle, but in Alabama being poor could land you in prison. According to a recent story in The New York Times, Alabama resident Gina Ray was locked up for over a month because she couldn’t pay fees and fines related to minor traffic offenses. Speeding while poor shouldn’t land someone in jail. This punishment doesn’t fit the crime.
Why would such morally outrageous penalties be imposed for such minor violations? Because criminal justice has become big business. Private companies are making millions of dollars running prisons, administering probation systems, and providing health care to those living behind bars.
Like many other states, Alabama has made huge increases in the fees it levies on those caught up in its criminal justice system. When poor citizens cannot pay the fines and fees that fatten a private contractor’s bottom line, they often land in jail and are faced with even more fees created by their incarceration. One Alabama judge called the situation an appalling “extortion racket.”
Courts are supposed to serve the cause of justice, but in Alabama the criminal justice system has become a source of injustice that preys on the poor and vulnerable. Constitutional rights are ignored and the burden on those in poverty is increased.
To end these immoral practices, Christians and others outraged by these injustices must speak out. Robert Bentley, the governor of Alabama, needs to call for legislation to reform the state’s broken system and end these egregious abuses. Please add your voice to those calling for Gov. Bentley to put the well-being Alabama’s citizens before the profits of companies benefitting from this morally troubling situation.
Beau Underwood is Campaigns Manager for Sojourners.