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Alabama editorial roundup

By The Associated PressJune 26, 2019

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

June 26

The Cullman Times on the crowded field of Republicans challenging Democratic Sen. Doug Jones in the 2020 election:

The Republican field seeking a shot at the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Doug Jones is becoming crowded with the addition of Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill.

Merrill, as expected, made his announcement Tuesday to enter the Republican side of the race. He joins a field of Republican candidates that includes U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne of Fairhope, former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville, state Rep. Arnold Mooney of Shelby County, and Haleyville businessman Stanley Adair.

Everyone in the race is taking aim at Jones, the only Democrat to hold a statewide office and the first to do so since Sen. Howell Heflin retired in 1997.

Many of the candidates in the Republican field, which could grow to an even higher number, have name recognition. Byrne already sits in Congress. Merrill travels the state extensively as secretary of state and frequents public events. Tuberville gained plenty of fame as the head football coach at Auburn, while Moore is known to just about anyone who has read a news story.

What will be challenging for voters is dissecting the intent of these candidates in reaching a conclusion to the Republican primary.

All of the candidates want to unseat Jones. That’s been repeated many times.

But who among these candidates can rise up to show he is Senate-worthy?

Jones cannot be the defining issue of six candidates in a primary. They will have to battle among themselves and prove their credentials and abilities to the voters just to get a shot at the standing senator in March 2020.

A race full of prominent individuals also holds the risk of a political meltdown. The fight should be spirited, but if it becomes ugly with character attacks with the group, voters may become dismayed.

The epic battle between Bill Baxley and Charlie Graddick that led to the election of Guy Hunt as governor is always a reminder in politics that candidates can go too far in their quest to rise to the top.

As the campaign gets under way, we encourage that the candidates engage in numerous debates and outline their views on issues facing Alabama and the nation. The voters will be able to make informed decisions in both the primary and general election when the topics are clearly about their interests and needs.

Online: http://www.cullmantimes.com/

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June 26

The Decatur Daily on the impact of private prisons on Alabama, and proposals to get rid of them:

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is running for president, so we can expect her to make some outsize promises.

Last week, the Massachusetts Democrat said if she’s elected president, she will ban private prisons, calling them “exploitation, plain and simple.”

It sounds like a radical proposal. After all, it doesn’t call for more regulation of private prisons or scaling back their use. It’s an outright ban.

But closer examination of Warren’s plan shows it’s not radical at all but timid — and it’s a diversion from the real issues with criminal justice in the United States.

Perhaps that’s why Warren isn’t the only Democratic candidate calling for an end to private prisons. Sen. Kamala Harris of California has also said she would, if elected, “end private prisons and the profiting off of people in prison.”

That’s tough talk from someone who, as attorney general for California, oversaw a system that profited from prison labor and who threatened parents for truant public school students with jail time. But then Harris either embraces her record or papers over it depending on the audience.

Private prisons make a convenient bogeyman, but they house only a small percentage of those incarcerated in the U.S.

The number of people housed in private prisons has increased 47% since 2000, according to The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit advocacy group that supports reducing the prison population and eliminating racial disparities in the prison system. That sounds bad, but privately incarcerated inmates still constitute just 8.5% of the overall U.S. prison population. The vast majority of them are in state custody, not federal custody. Only about 18% are in federal custody. And most of the ones in state custody are in just a few states: New Mexico, Montana, Hawaii and Tennessee being the main offenders.

Fordham University professor John F. Pfaff, author of “Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration — and How to Achieve Real Reform,” tweeted in April in response to an earlier Warren comment, “50% of all ppl in privates are in just 5 states, those states did not see faster prison growth.”

Take it from Alabama: Private incarceration is not the issue. According to The Sentencing Project, just 1.2% of Alabama prisoners are in private prisons. Yet Alabama has what are likely the worst prisons in the nation.

Alabama prisons are so bad a federal judge has said they likely violate the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, and a federal takeover of Alabama’s prisons is likely unless state leaders do something soon to demonstrate they are serious about addressing the prison systems’ chronic issues with overcrowding, understaffing, violence, sexual assault and mental health.

None of this is to say private prisons are a good thing. They have their own issues, and we have seen locally on a smaller scale how the profit motive can be used to shake down people who are incarcerated — in such simple ways as charging them exorbitant rates just to make phone calls to their families.

What we are saying is presidential candidates’ focus on private prisons is misplaced, and, worse, it is a distraction from the real issues plaguing criminal justice.

“Blaming private prisons helps us avoid the real failure at the heart of mass incarceration,” Pfaff tweeted. “It’s not the profit motive of a shadowy cabal of financiers. It’s a public sector policy failure. And a POLITICAL failure, driven by a punitive electorate — by us.”

We agree. As we have often said the issue with Alabama prisons is Alabama voters demand more law enforcement than they want to pay for — although recent polling indicates that attitude may be changing.

It would be nice if the Democratic candidates led on the issue, rather than simply picking a convenient target for demonization.

Online: https://www.decaturdaily.com/

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June 19

The Gadsden Times on a bill to restrict convicted violent offenders from profiting off of sharing the story of the crime:

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that we can tell which stories attract the most searchers and viewers on our website.

It probably won’t surprise you either to learn that crime stories — whether they’re new or old — do extremely well for us in those metrics, just like they’re a staple of books, cable television and various websites and blogs. We have a running joke in the newsroom, “Some show must have replayed a Betty Wilson episode,” when we see a bunch of people looking at our past stories on the Gadsden native convicted of hiring a hitman to kill her husband a quarter-century ago.

Some might call that prurient; we aren’t going to sit in judgment. We’ll just note that there’s long been a public appetite for crime fiction — Edgar Allan Poe published “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” in 1841; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published his first Sherlock Holmes story in 1887; Dashiell Hammett created Sam Spade in 1930; Raymond Chandler introduced the world to Philip Marlowe in 1939; and Mickey Spillane’s first Mike Hammer novel was published in 1947. A fascination for the real thing is a natural offshoot of that.

Still, we imagine that those fascinated folks might be less enamored if the perpetrator of a crime was benefiting from a revisit or re-enactment. The Alabama Legislature took a proactive step against such a scenario this year with the passage of a bill sponsored by Rep. Proncey Robertson, R-Moulton, that was dubbed “Lisa’s Law.”

It was named after Lisa Ann Millican, a Georgia teenager who in 1982 was kidnapped, abused and murdered — her body dumped into Little River Canyon in DeKalb County — by Judith Ann Neelley and her husband, Alvin.

That story has been consistently revived and revisited over the years, to the consternation of Millican’s family, through the controversy over former Gov. Fob James’ “as he was headed out the door” commutation of Judith Neelley’s death sentence, and in true crime shows and at least one book.

Robertson’s bill requires any payment of $5,000 or more to someone convicted of a violent crime — specifically, “a felony offense involving moral turpitude” — for that person’s input to be used in a book, broadcast or show to be reported to the state attorney general’s office. The AG’s office in turn would notify victims and their families, who would have five years to seek restitution or damages from the perpetrator.

There are no First Amendment issues here; legitimate news stories are exempted (and no reputable journalist would ever countenance paying a murderer for his or her thoughts). The bill also doesn’t ban those convicted of violent crimes from sharing what’s on their minds with the universe if they’re so inclined.

They just can’t make more than a relative pittance of money from it; otherwise, they’ll have to pay those whose lives they shattered, directly or indirectly.

No amount of cash, of course, will change or reverse those events.

Doesn’t matter — this is justice, the right thing to do.

Online: http://www.gadsdentimes.com/

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