Reclaiming Their Voices, Reclaiming Their Power

Press Release April 12, 2004
Media Contact

Michael Blain at (646) 335-2241 or Paul Robinson at (251) 648-9278

Hundreds of formerly incarcerated people and their loved ones will take “Freedom Rides” from Mobile, Selma, Dolthan, Birmingham, and Tuscaloosa to the state capitol in Montgomery to participate in a “Freedom March” that recalls the civil rights movement that was born in that same city. Representatives Yvonne Kennedy and Alvin Holmes, among others, will join them in opposing Alabama’s skyrocketing incarceration rates.

Alabama’s prison system is in crisis. The prison population has grown from 6,000 in 1979 to 29,000 today (a 400% increase over 25 years). 59% of the people locked up in Alabama for parole revocations are re-arrested just for testing positive for marijuana. Over 70% of the prison population is locked up for non-violent drug and low level property offenses. This is a waste of scarce Alabama tax dollars, and national trends have shown that there are many other fiscally sound alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders.It is also the beginning of the disenfranchisement cycle. There are over 212,000 Alabamans who cannot vote, and over half of those disenfranchised come from the African American community.

Thousands are expected to march to the steps of the State Capital to demand treatment instead of incarceration, full restoration of voting rights, and resources for successful re-entry. Their goal is to connect the dots on the issues related to the criminal justice system and start thinking about helping develop stronger families and stronger communities.

“We must unlock the box that steals away the voting power of 14% of the African-Americans in Alabama,” said Paul Robinson, the founder of Mobile, Alabama’s 1 For Life, and a steering committee member of the Alabama Restore the Vote Coalition. “Disenfranchisement is the end result of judicial injustice.”

Yvonne Cardona, of the Alabama Civic Black Participation Coalition added, “I am tired of marching for what are supposed to be my inalienable rights, but I hear the voices of my ancestors telling me that when I am tired, that is when I need to march most. So, let’s march on Rome!”

“This march is indicative of a movement whose time has come. We see around the country the communities that have been devastated and disenfranchised by the War on Drugs are reclaiming their power and will not be denied,” said Michael Blain, Policy Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a national organization whose mission is to find alternatives to the war on drugs. “It is imperative that we begin to reduce the harm that has been done to these communities by our indifference to liberty and equal justice for all.”

Representative Dr. Yvonne Kennedy, the legislative champion of the voting rights bill from Mobile said, “We have to stop locking people up for non-violent drug offenses and restore the vote to our communities who most need to be engaged in the political process. We can and must do better.”

This March is a part of a two-day conference being held in Montgomery by Family Members of Inmates on April 16th and 17th. There will be workshops such as “How Children Deal with Incarceration”, “How to Turn Injustice into Power”, and “Voter Registration Empowerment”. Roberta Franklin, the founder and director of FMI said, “Thousands of families in Alabama are mourning the loss of loved ones to a prison system that wastes lives and money that Alabama can ill afford.”

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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