4 years ago

Alabama’s dangerously overcrowded prisons attract national attention

Alabama prison

The national media has begun bringing widespread attention to the serious problems in Alabama’s underfunded, overcrowded prison system. In the last several days alone, the New York Times, Washington Post and Associated Press have all published widely disseminated articles on the ongoing problems in the system, most notably at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women, where the U.S. Justice Department says conditions were once so bad they likely violated the inmates’ constitutional rights.

From the Washington Post:

Built in 1942 in the sleepy town of Wetumpka, Alabama’s lone prison for women has a “history of unabated staff-on-prisoner sexual abuse and harassment,” the U.S. Department of Justice wrote in a scathing report in January. DOJ accused Alabama of violating inmates’ constitutional rights to be protected from harm, alleging that corrections officers had assaulted inmates, coerced inmates into sex, inappropriately watched inmates in the showers and bathrooms and once even helped in a New Year’s Eve strip show.

From the New York Times:

Corrections officers have raped, beaten and harassed women inside the aging prison here for at least 18 years, according to an unfolding Justice Department investigation. More than a third of the employees have had sex with prisoners, which is sometimes the only currency for basics like toilet paper and tampons.

Gov. Bentley told The Times that the DOJ’s report does not paint an accurate picture of Tutwiler in 2014.

“I thought they took past offenses over many years and put them into their report as if all of those offenses were occurring today,” he said. “They did not take into account all the remedies that had been put in place or were beginning to be put in place when they actually came in to visit.”

Based on all the information Yellowhammer has been able to gather from numerous sides, including lawmakers and former prisoners, Gov. Bentley is right.

But while Tutwiler has become the proverbial poster child for Alabama’s prison problems — and a human rights and PR disaster, no doubt — it’s the larger overcrowding issue that threatens to destabilize the entire system and compel the federal government to get involved.

The New York Times over the weekend questioned whether the recent reports at Tutwiler will be enough to spur reform. Early indications are that this year’s General Fund budget won’t contain any more funding for prisons than last year’s budget. Gov. Bentley’s proposed budget actually included $7 million less.

Alabama has the second-highest number of inmates per capita in the nation and the state’s prisons are filled to roughly twice their capacity.

California serves as an example of what can happen when the federal government is forced to intervene.

In the 2011 Supreme Court case Brown v. Plata, the Court effectively required the State of California to remove 46,000 criminals from its prisons by forcing The Golden State to cut its prison population to 137.5 percent of “design capacity.”

The Public Policy Institute of California found that property crime increased by 7.6 percent the year after the mass releases. Car thefts rose almost 15 percent. In short, 24,000 more people had their car stolen in California in 2012 as a result of the state not being able to get its prison overcrowding problem under control.

Alabama’s prisons are currently at roughly 187 percent capacity, 50 percent higher than the level the Court mandated for California.

More from the New York Times:

“Yes, we need to rectify the crimes that happened at Tutwiler, but going forward it’s a bigger problem than just Tutwiler,” said State Senator Cam Ward, a Republican from Alabaster who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “We’re dealing with a box of dynamite.”

The solution, Mr. Ward and others say, is not to build more prisons but to change the sentencing guidelines that have filled the prisons well beyond capacity.

Just over half the state’s prisoners are locked up for drug and property crimes, a rate for nonviolent offenses that is among the highest in the nation.

“No one wants to be soft on crime, but the way we’re doing this is just stupid,” Mr. Ward said.

As Yellowhammer wrote earlier this year, legislators must reform Alabama’s prisons or risk a federal judge doing it for us.


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7 mins ago

Abortion is not a human right, says State Dept. official

The State Department released its Human Rights Report for 2017 on Friday, and State Department officials acknowledged it purposely left out a section on “women’s reproductive rights,” which had been included in previous reports during the Obama administration, noting that the administration does not consider abortion a human right under international law.

“When the State Department is talking about this represents our values as Americans, the removal of sections on women’s reproductive rights – why is that not included in values as Americans?” a reporter asked State Department officials.

“I’m going to explain why it was removed. It was introduced six years ago into the report. It hadn’t been there before,” Michael Kozak, ambassador for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, said.

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“It’s one of the few terms that are used in the report that isn’t derived from an international treaty that has a definition or derived from U.S. law, where there’s a clear definition to the term, and in this case, the previous administration intended it to mean look at the availability of contraception, at the – whether the government tried to impose or coerce people in making decisions about reproduction,” Kozak said.

“In the statements that were made – this was derived from the Beijing Declaration that was done in the ‘90s. At that time, it was very clear and our delegation made a very clear statement that this has nothing to do with abortion. It doesn’t mean abortion,” he said.

Kozak said the use of the term “reproductive rights” means different things to people on both sides of the issue.

“Unfortunately, over the last few years, groups on both sides of that issue domestically have started to use the term, and both seem to think it does include abortion and then argue about it,” he said. “So our thought was let’s just not use a term that has the opposite meaning from the one we intend.

“We went back to the term that’s used in the U.S. statute that requires the Human Rights Report, which is coerced family planning, namely coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization,” Kozak said. “I might mention too, because I went back and looked at last year’s report, the question being asked was, ‘Were there obstacles opposed to getting contraception information and means?’

“The answer in virtually every country was no, there were no obstacles other than, in almost every country, including our own, the availability in rural areas is less than it is in urban areas. But we were taking a lot of space to explain that,” he said.

“So what we’ve done, we’ve kept that information in there. We’ve done it now by a hyperlink. We used to take that information from the WHO report and put it in. We said let’s just use a hyperlink, and then there’s actually more information available that way. So that’s the rationale behind that,” Kozak said.

“It’s not a diminishment of women’s rights or a desire to get away from it; it was to stop using a term that has several different meanings that are not all the ones we intend,” he added.

A reporter later questioned whether Kozak was saying “there are no obstacles for women to get contraception in any country except for if there’s a remote issue.”

“I said with some exceptions, and the exceptions were and still are – and we’ve really gotten at it by flipping back to the original U.S. statutory language. It’s in places like China, where in order to enforce their two – now two-child policy, that there are reports of coerced abortion and involuntary sterilization,” Kozak said.

The ambassador said North Korea also engages in forced abortion, although it’s usually used for political punishment. Also in the country of Belarus, women in state hospitals or who are institutionalized are forced to have abortions or if the woman or baby has disabilities.

“In North Korea, where the government also coerces or forces abortion – although sometimes that’s for political punishment rather than family planning, and we uncovered it,” Kozak said.

“So as we were digging through trying to reduce the bulk of some of this report, I found in the old country I served in, in Belarus, that it turns out that the doctors in the state hospitals, and particularly in the institutions there, if they have a woman who is pregnant and who is a woman with disabilities, the doctors insist on an abortion. Or if they believe the fetus has a disability, they’ll insist on an abortion. So we’ve called that out too,” he said.

“So it’s not – those were the cases, though, in the – under the previous formula where you would say there was a restriction on family planning, freedom of family planning. For most countries, it said, there isn’t any restriction except for the ones imposed by economics and rural-urban type thing,” Kozak said.

“So just to be clear just on that, so taking out the language about those cases therefore means that the U.S. doesn’t believe that the inability for women to get an abortion physically or by law is an abuse of human rights?” a reporter asked.

“Correct, under the previous administration and this one and the one before that. We have never taken the position that abortion was a right under – a human right under international law,” Kozak said.

“This is supposed to be internationally recognized human rights, and it’s an issue on which – some countries prohibit abortion. Some countries, like our own, pretty much no restriction on it, and we don’t say one of those is right and one of those is wrong. We don’t report on it because it’s not a human right,” he said.

“It’s an issue of great policy debate. You can have a good discussion, but there’s no internationally recognized standard as to what’s the right treatment, but the other, yes. The – it is internationally recognized that somebody shouldn’t coerce you to have an abortion or force you to be sterilized,” Kozak added.

(Courtesy of CNSNews.com)

36 mins ago

Alabama Waffle House deserves kudos for their handling of #WaffleHouse boycott

Corporate boycotts are all the rage. Last week we have a boycott of the notoriously liberal Starbucks because two men wouldn’t leave when asked and now Starbucks is closing stores to do “implicit bias training”. In Alabama, a Waffle House in Saraland came under attack after a video showed an intoxicated and angry Chikesia Clemons being arrested for not leaving a restaurant when requested. The evidence indicated the original story about an argument over utensils was a lie. The woman was asked to leave because she was drunk and brought alcohol into the restaurant.  She also reportedly told the staff “Bitch, you don’t know what I’ve got going on. … I may have a gun, I may have anything, I can come back and shoot this place up if I need to.”

In light of this new evidence Waffle House took the anti-Starbucks position:

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Why this matters: The press likes chaos, they thrive off racial chaos, and they are fermenting it at every turn. Most corporations want no part of this. They want controversy to go away and they want to be seen as good corporate citizens, so they take the PR hit and promise to do better if the mob will just stop screaming. Waffle House stood up for the truth here, they supported their employees, they supported law enforcement, and for that they should be applauded.

The details:

— Clemons and two friends were asked to leave the Waffle House after entering with an alcoholic beverage. Her two friends left but Clemons yelled at staff and threatened them.

— When police arrived Clemons refused to leave and then resisted arrest.

— To show her level of intoxication, police released a video of Clemons appearing to vomit into a garbage can during her booking.

— Nothing good happens at a Waffle House after 2 AM. The arrest took place at 2:45 AM.

@TheDaleJackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a conservative talk show from 7-11 AM weekdays on WVNN in Huntsville.

1 hour ago

4 Alabama men arrested on drug trafficking charges

Four men accused of trafficking meth in Cullman County, Alabama, have been arrested in a raid.

AL.com reports the men are each charged with trafficking methamphetamine, unlawful possession of marijuana and unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia.

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County Sheriff Matt Gentry says the Cullman Narcotics Enforcement Team executed a search warrant on Friday. The team found drug paraphernalia, marijuana and 4 ounces of methamphetamine.

Thirty-seven-year-old David Jerry Reynolds, 39-year-old Damian Alan Blair and 58-year-old Robert Earl Brock are being held in jail. Thirty-two-year-old Steven Ray Moore is out on bail.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

2 hours ago

Police: Missing Alabama boy found safe in Mississippi

Police say the missing 5-year-old boy who was reportedly abducted from a bus stop in Alabama has been found in Mississippi.

Sylacauga Police said in a Facebook post Monday that Malachi Quintanilla was taken by a woman possibly related to the boy’s biological father.

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AL.com cited the post and reported that police did not believe the abduction was random. The department said the two may have been heading to New Orleans, where the woman lives. It said the boy was found safe in Lee County, Mississippi, later that day.

The U.S. Marshal’s Service and the FBI assisted in the investigation. The police department has said it will issue a formal statement at a later time.

(Copyright Associated Press 2018)

How should Christians think about Trump’s North Korea stance?


Listen to the 10 min audio

Read the transcript:

TRUMP’S TAKE ON NORTH KOREA

TOM LAMPRECHT: Harry, last Wednesday evening around 6:15, President Donald Trump along with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan held a press conference. They talked about a number of different things, including trade, but the primary focus of that press conference was North Korea. It was also revealed just before that press conference that CIA director, Mike Pompeo, who is the nominee for the Secretary of State, met secretly with Kim Jong Un over the Easter weekend. 

The whole coming together of this summit between Donald Trump and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, has taken a lot of twists and turns. What’s your take on all this?   

DR. REEDER: Tom, I think that what we’ve got here, in the populist appeal of President Donald Trump to the reaction of overreach in the previous administration of governmental authority and power and its cultural agenda, it seems as if there’s this profane conduct, instead of a turnoff, an appeal to a significant segment of the voting population and his unabashed sentiment that — Look, I’m a businessman. I know the art of the deal. I’ll make the deal and it’s not going to be business as usual from the unproductive tactics of our politicians, ‘the accepted practices of statecraft.’

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And I think people elected him with that in mind and now he’s doing it. It’s very befuddling to the media because, whether this is directly by the book — his book, The Art of the Deal — or he is just showing you the intuition of his approach to being a businessman, you can see him doing things that they say — That is unbecoming of a president. He shouldn’t do that with these tweets, and statements, and interviews and derogatory statements.

WHY DOES THIS DRAW SO MUCH IRE FROM THE MEDIA?

And so, they ridicule him for that, which seems to be his way to put the other person on their heels. On the backside, he is sending secret envoys such as the previously unknown and secretive trip that Michael Pompeo made to talk with him, from which we now get this “possible summit” and now the media criticizes him because these trips set this up were not publicly done in the manner in which summits are usually arranged.

The third thing he’s said is this — Well, listen, you need to know, respectively, I’ll walk away from the table if we’re not getting any progress. If you’re not willing to walk away, you’re not going to be able to accomplish it and he is letting them know — Hey, respectfully, but I’ll walk away unless we get… — and he names the progress he wants in denuclearization, not just a treaty, but actual denuclearization.

TOM LAMPRECHT: When he says he will walk away from the table, he’ll either not go to the negotiations if it’s not going in the right direction or he’ll get up and leave. Is that a message to North Korea or to the media?

DR. REEDER: I believe “respectfully” was for the media, to tell them — Hey, I’m not going back to Tactic 1 — which is to put them on their heels with insults and name-calling. I think it was also a message to the president of North Korea, this dictator, that is — You’re not going to dictate this. I am now dictating the fact that it won’t continue unless we get the desired result.

HOW DOES A CHRISTIAN POLITICIAN NEGOTIATE CHARITABLY?

Tom, from a Christian world and life view, I want to make sure with no ambiguity that a Christian — whether it’s business, politics, relationships or whatever — must always say the truth, say what they mean, mean what they say and never be mean when they say it.

That doesn’t mean you can’t say tough things, but it says you never say even tough things meanly. If I go to someone who is entrapped in sin, I want to identify the sin and I may have to say some tough things, but it’s going to be clear I’m going to speak the truth in love and I’m going to love with the truth.

And I think that should carry over into every arena of life, that we treat people made in the image of God with dignity and their positions that they hold with dignity because I also reject, as a Christian, any form of pragmatism that the end justifies the means. I believe the means will always, ultimately, determine the end.

ADDRESSING AND FREEING THE AMERICANS HELD CAPTIVE

TOM LAMPRECHT: Harry, you mentioned earlier three Americans being held captive in North Korea. I don’t want to end today’s Today in Perspective without bringing up our brother in Christ, Andrew Brunson, who was a pastor out of Black Mountain, North Carolina.

There was a hearing held on Andrew Brunson over in the country of Turkey where he’s being held captive. He was actually sent back from that hearing to a more notorious prison in Turkey. He was accused of terrorism because of evangelism.

DR. REEDER: We have a committee on the persecuted church under our missions committee. This has been an area of focus. In fact, even as we speak, I am going to be reading a letter from Andrew Brunson and I’d like for you to read it in just a moment so that people can get a personal sense of it as well as his commitment to Christ as a believer and as a pastor.

Here is a man that is just unbelievably faithful. He has spent years in Turkey. He has a heart for the people in Turkey. And, Tom, he not only has a heart for the people in Turkey, he is willing to endure for the people in Turkey.

Tom, he pastors a church of 25 people. Here is a Southern Baptist pastor — he’s one of our brothers in ministry in a sister denomination, the Southern Baptist — faithful to the Word of God, loves the Lord, loves the people and loves where he has been called as a pastor.

And he tries to do, as Paul told Timothy, “the work of an evangelist”. Therefore, as he shared his faith, they arrested him– in this “secular” Islamic nation, they arrested him — they put him in prison, they have given him a trial and, in that trial, have declared evangelism as a terrorist act. And, therefore, they have moved him from that prison to a what they call “intense” prison. We would call it something like maximum security, but it’s a no-holds-barred incarceration. I can’t imagine what he’s going through — obviously, I want to pray for him but I don’t want to even dwell on it. He longs to be with his wife and back to his church, but, Tom, he has made it abundantly clear that he will be faithful to Christ in life and in death.

TOM LAMPRECHT: Let me read that letter:

Let it be clear, I’m in prison, not for anything I’ve done wrong, but for who I am, a Christian pastor. I desperately miss my wife and children, yet I believe this to be true: it is an honor to suffer for Jesus Christ as many have done before me. I know that God’s grace is sustaining me even when I do not feel that grace and I know that the prayers of God’s people are surrounding me and giving strength.

One of my big fears has been that I will be forgotten in prison. Thank you for not forgetting. It reminds me that I’m not alone and that I need to stand firm with my face pointed in God’s direction always. To the extent that I am known, I want to be known as a servant and lover of Jesus Christ.

I have prayed for this land and its people for many years for God to pour out great blessing. In my weakness, I pray daily for strength and courage to persevere and remain faithful to my king until the end. My deepest thanks to my family around the world that are standing with me and praying for me.

DR. REEDER: So, Tom, let’s end by making a personal appeal to all who listen to this program and then anyone you’d like to share this program with. No. 1, we will not forget Pastor Andrew Brunson. That means, No. 2, we will be in prayer for him.

Thirdly and finally, a word of warning: what he is going through here, Christian ministers may one day go through here, for we are always just a generation away from the movement of the Gospel to another area of the globe if we don’t apply the wonderful, glorious gospel in life and in ministry through faithful church and faithful Christians in our own country. Having said that, now pray for Pastor Brunson. May the Lord deliver him and may He deliver sinners in that nation and around the world through his witness.

COMING UP TOMORROW: ARMY CHAPLAIN DISCIPLINED — VIOLATION OF HIS RELIGIOUS RIGHTS?

TOM LAMPRECHT: Harry, on Wednesday’s edition of Today in Perspective, I want to take you to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. A Fort Bragg chaplain is facing a disciplinary action — does he follow the tenets of his faith or does he follow the Army’s equal opportunity policy?

DR. REEDER: And here are the first steps of the persecution that I just warned about. Here is a faithful minister being faithful to his Army regulations, faithful to his confession of faith, faithful to his Bill of Rights liberties, and yet his livelihood is about to be taken away from him, this decorated chaplain.

Why? Because of his faithfulness and his embrace of his first liberty as found in the Bill of Rights and faithfulness in ministry there in the Army. We’ll look at the particulars of that and what is happening in this targeting, not of his life as Andrew Brunson, but of his livelihood which is usually the first step of an authoritarian persecution in any nation.

Dr. Harry L. Reeder III is the Senior Pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham.

This podcast was transcribed by Jessica Havin, editorial assistant for Yellowhammer News, who has transcribed some of the top podcasts in the country and whose work has been featured in a New York Times Bestseller.