Policy Watch: Alabama Bill Looks to Decrease Correctional Incentive Time in State Prison System

March 6, 2023 | Kimberly Randall, LHC Staff

As the 2023 Alabama Legislative Session begins on March 6 with Governor Ivey’s State of the State Address, dozens of bills have been pre-filed over the last few weeks. This year starts the first of a four-year term with new committees, new legislators, and new leadership. As a part of a five-part series, the Lister Hill Center for Health Policy has identified five pre-filed bills that could have substantial health implications if passed in 2023.

Inmates sitting on bunks wearing white jumpsuits

SB1 – Deputy Brad Johnson Act

Sponsored by: Sen. April Weaver (R-Brierfield)

This bill has also been pre-filed in the House of Representatives as HB-9 by Rep. Russell Bedsole (R-Montevallo)


Under current Alabama law, § Section 14-9-41, individuals incarcerated within the Alabama Department of Corrections had “good behavior time” calculated by a specific equation. Referred to as correctional incentive time, inmates can have time reduced off of their sentences for serving portions of their time in various amounts depending on their classification, a ranking system determined by the length of time spent incarcerated and the deemed trustworthiness of each individual.

Proposed Legislation

The legislation, SB 1, would decrease the correctional incentive time for each classification of inmates.

Class 1 inmates (considered trustworthy and able to work without supervision) are eligible for a maximum of 75 days to be removed from their sentence per 30 days served. SB 1 would reduce this amount to 30 days.

Class 2 inmates (able to work under supervision) are eligible for a maximum of 40 days of correctional incentive time per 30 days served, which would be reduced to 15 days.

Class 3 inmates (special assignments) are eligible for a maximum of 20 days of correctional incentive time, which would be reduced to 5 days.

Additionally, SB1 doubles the length of time that inmates must spend in each category before advancing to the next class.


Alabama has been scrutinized by the Department of Justice and legal advocacy organizations for being unsanitary, overcrowded, and dangerous. The state has one of the highest incarcerations in the country, with a mortality rate of more than twice the national averageAlabama is home to the most dangerous prison in the United States, as determined by the number of violent and often fatal incidents at St. Clair Correctional Facility. While funding was diverted from the American Rescue Plan in 2022 to build new facilities, the Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner, John Hamm, has declared that the new buildings will not have a higher capacity than the existing ones.

SB1 would increase the number of incarcerated persons in the state at any given time. Under the existing guidelines, an incarcerated person who was given a five-year sentence could be released after 28 months if maxing out the correctional incentive time. Under the proposed changes, the same person would be released no earlier than 36 months. Without proper procedures to increase capacity, medical access, and staffing, this increase in prison populations could have significant adverse health implications for incarcerated persons and prison staff.

Prison systems are hot spots for disease transmission and often have understaffed medical facilities. The Alabama Department of Corrections utilizes a co-pay system for incarcerated persons to use healthcare resources which are often 5-10x their daily wages. Additionally, the cost of medical treatment within the prison system is significantly higher than for unincarcerated persons, resulting in a higher percentage of undiagnosed and untreated diseases. It is also important to note that some disease transmission, such as SARS-COV-2, can impact the prison staff and inmates.

Next Steps

The Alabama Legislative Session officially begins on Wednesday, March 7. SB1 has been scheduled for a first reading that day, which will be sent to the committee for deliberation. Should it pass in committee, a second reading on the Senate floor will place the bill on the official Senate calendar. Then, a third reading will occur where the entire chamber will debate the bill.

If you want to make your voice heard on this or future legislation, click here to identify your elected officials, and check out this guide from the ACLU on how to write a letter to your legislators.

Stay Informed

Want to learn more about this bill and other issues impacting the Alabama prison system? Join the Lister Hill Center for Health Policy, the UAB Institute for Human Rights, and the Southern Poverty Law Center on Wednesday, March 22, at 4 PM at University Hall, Room 1008, for a special discussion on Criminal Justice Reform & Human Rights in Alabama. Registration can be found here.

Additionally, we recommend the following organizations for more information on criminal justice reform:

Policy Watch: Alabama Prison Expansion and the Subsequent Impact on Public Health

October 4, 2021, by Kimberly Tsoukalas, LHC Program Coordinator


The state of Alabama operates the most crowded prison system in the United States, with some facilities operating at 272% capacity. The state also ranks last nationally in the amount of funding allocated per prisoner and has the fifth-highest incarceration rate nationally per capita. The combination of these facts has resulted in several civil, humanitarian, and health crises and subsequent lawsuits against the state, including a class-action lawsuit alleging abuse and inhumane conditions toward female inmates at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women, which was later settled by the state. 

To read the investigation report from
the Department of Justice, click here.
In the last few years, the U.S. Department of Justice launched an investigation under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997. The report determined Alabama prisons to “routinely violate the constitutional rights of prisoners” and failed to provide “adequate, humane conditions of confinement.” Additionally, a federal court ruled that the Alabama Department of Corrections failed to provide adequate mental health resources, suicide prevention, psychotherapy, programming, and out-of-cell time, resulting in a significantly higher rate of suicide and violence.

Former governor Robert Bentley proposed legislation in 2016 and 2017 to build new prison facilities; however, no bills were ultimately passed before Bentley left office. 

Proposed Legislation

Alabama House Bill 4, proposed by Rep. Steve Clouse, allows the Alabama Corrections Institution Finance Authority to issue bonds up to $785 million to “implement a prison modernization plan” that will construct two 4,000-bed men’s facilities and a 1,000-bed women’s facility while closing several smaller correctional facilities in the process. It also provides funding for the renovation and/or improvement of several remaining facilities across the state. Alabama House Bill 5, also proposed by Rep. Steve Clouse, authorizes the use of $400 million from the American Rescue Act (intended to be used for emergency assistance related to the COVID-19 pandemic) to assist in constructing these prisons. Lastly, Alabama House Bill 6 appropriates an additional $135 million from the State General Fund to assist prison construction projects. 


The construction of new prison facilities is expected to have significantly improved medical, mental health, and rehabilitation services. According to Fraser (2009), overcrowding in prisons results in lowered access to health care services, increased gang activity within prisons due to territorial disputes, an increase in individual mental health issues, an increase in violence and racism, higher spread of disease, and greater risk and stress to prison facility staff. 

The rise of the coronavirus pandemic brought about new issues related to overcrowding as COVID infections spread in prisons over three times the rate of the general population. As of October 1, 427,326 inmates across the nation had tested positive for the virus resulting in 2,603 inmate deaths, while 114,275 prison facility staff had tested positive, resulting in 218 staff deaths. While the state of Alabama prioritized inmates and prison staff during the vaccination rollout, only 43% of prisoners have received the vaccine, ranking last in the nation. Diseases like COVID-19 spread rapidly in congregate settings, and prison overcrowding is a serious risk to public health in incarcerated populations. 

Help We Matter

The main point of contention regarding HB4, HB5, and HB6 came from the allocation of funding provided by the American Rescue Act. Representative Terri Sewell (D-AL) released a statement through her office criticizing the allocation of COVID-19 resources.

“I am deeply disturbed to learn that the State of Alabama is considering a plan to use $400 million of COVID-19 aid from the American Rescue Plan to build prisons, especially as COVID-19 rages on in our state! Alabama currently has the highest COVID-19 death rate in the country. To be clear, the current state of the Alabama prison system is abhorrent, but the use of COVID-19 relief funds to pay for decades of our state’s neglect is simply unacceptable.

“COVID-19 relief money should be used for COVID-19 relief. Period.”

It is unclear how or if the appropriation of ARP funds for prisons will impact the state’s response to COVID in the future. 

Next Steps

While the Alabama House of Representatives and Senate have passed the bill, it will now go to Governor Kay Ivey to be signed into law. Ivey has been a strong supporter of the bill and is expected to sign with no objections. If you want to make your voice heard on this or future legislation, click here to identify your elected officials

Stay Informed

Want to learn more about Alabama prison reform? We recommend following these organizations: 

Equal Justice Initiative 

Covid Prison Project 

Prison Policy Initiative 


Policy Watch: Alabama Prison Sentencing Reform – How does long-term incarceration impact health outcomes? 

October 11, 2021 | Kimberly Randall, LHC Program Coordinator

Man behind jail bars

BackgroundAlabama’s Department of Corrections operates the prison system for one of the highest rates of incarceration per capita in the United States, with 938 per 100,000 residents residing in jails, prisons, or other correctional facilities. Additionally, the United States, and subsequently Alabama, use the prison system as a default response to criminal activity with upwards of 70% of convictions resulting in incarceration, many of which are for non-violent offenses. 

The massive number of incarcerated persons has led to overcrowded and underequipped facilities. Last month, the Alabama Legislature passed HB4, HB5, and HB6 which would allocate funds for the construction of new, state-of-the-art prison systems in the state. However, it fails to address the root of the problem of overpopulation – over sentencing. 

In 2015, Alabama signed Code 15-22-26.2 into law, which mandated supervised probation for non-violent offenders: 

Department of Justice Complaint to Gov. Ivey RE: Prison ConditionsTo read HB2 in full, click here.

(1) If the defendant is sentenced to a period of five years or less, he or she shall be released to supervision by the Board of Pardons and Paroles no less than three months and no more than five months prior to the defendant’s release date;

(2) If the defendant is sentenced to a period of more than five years but less than 10 years, he or she shall be released to supervision by the Board of Pardons and Paroles no less than six months and no more than nine months prior to the defendant’s release date; or

(3) If the defendant is sentenced to a period of 10 years or more, he or she shall be released to supervision by the Board of Pardons and Paroles no less than 12 months and no more than 24 months prior to the defendant’s release date.

However, this legislation only applied to individuals who are sentenced after the law went into effect. 

Proposed Legislation

Proposed by Rep. Jim Hill, R-Moody, HB2 retroactively applies the mandated probationary period to individuals who were sentenced before 2015. It maintained the same probationary structure and restrictions, such as not being applicable to child sex offenders. The bill was one of two proposed pieces of legislation from Governor Kay Ivey focusing on prison sentencing reform. 


While this legislation is intended to impact the overcrowding and limited resources of the Alabama prison system, it will have long-term health impacts for inmates, prison staff, and the community. According to researchers at Brown University, prisoner health is a volatile public health issue as correctional facilities often lack the resources to provide adequate healthcare. The majority of inmates will eventually return to their communities, bringing their health conditions with them. 

The longer an inmate spends incarcerated, the greater their chances of disease, mental health issues, and chronic illness. The National Institute of Health lists having poor ventilation, limited opportunities for exercise, high levels of stress, poor sanitation, infestations with bugs and vermin, poor nutrition, tension, noise, lack of privacy, and lack of family support as contributing factors in poor inmate health. 

Additionally, while HB2 works to get inmates out of prison facilities faster, increasing the number of prisoners granted mandated probationary periods decreases recidivism by as much as 30% when compared to end-of-sentence release, or fulfilling the entirety of their sentence in a correctional facility.  According to the Equal Justice Initiative, “thoughtful and expanded parole remains the most effective mechanism for reducing the prison population without undermining public safety.” 

In addition to the retroactive sentencing guidelines, the bill also ensures that inmates will be given a state-issued photo identification card, social security card, and birth certificate upon their release, a key hurdle in obtaining employment for many inmates, along with appropriate clothing and public transportation. 

Many organizations have advocated for prison reforms, including the EJI, over the last decade; however, the bill has received criticism within the state, particularly from Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, who stated that law will only affect a few hundred inmates and doesn’t work to address the overall issue of overcrowding. 

Next Steps

Governor Kay Ivey has already signed the legislation into law. It will go into effect on January 31, 2023. If you want to make your voice heard on this or future legislation, click here to identify your elected officials

Stay Informed

Want to learn more about Alabama prison reform? We recommend following these organizations: 

Equal Justice Initiative 

Covid Prison Project 

Policy Review: Should the current prison healthcare co-pay system be overturned?

October 19, 2021 | Kimberly Randall, LHC Program Coordinator 

Handcuffed hands with inhaler

Photo Courtesy of Getty Images 

Written in 2013, Administration Regulation Number (ARN) 703 dictates the current co-pay system that allows inmates in the Alabama Department of Correction (ADoC) facilities to seek medical care. Constitutionally, inmates have a right to medical care while incarcerated as the Supreme Court referenced the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment as a precedent for providing healthcare access to inmates. ARN 703 states that “all inmates have access to healthcare regardless of their ability to pay. No inmate shall be denied care because of a record of non-payment or current inability to pay for health services.” However, the prison co-pay system establishes that ADoC is not responsible for providing care free of charge when an inmate has the means to pay the designated amount for health services. 

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, a think tank dedicated to prison reform, the average inmate in an Alabama correctional facility makes between $0.25 and $0.75 per hour making license plates, building furniture, and creating chemicals for use in state agencies. At $4 per visit, it would take almost one weeks’ wage to see a medical professional. 

ARN 703 and similar legislations state that utilizing a co-pay method for healthcare prevents inmates from misusing healthcare services as well as “instilling inmate responsibility by having them make resource allocation decisions.” Forty-two states, along with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, utilize a copay system. Some states operate on a method more closely associated with a deductible, such as the state of Texas which charges $100 per calendar year for unlimited visits with a medical provider. 

Recent research completed by the John Howard Association, an independent prison monitoring association advocating for prison reform and improving conditions for incarcerated persons, found that prison co-pays were the top source of stress for inmates, and over half of all inmates stating that they avoid healthcare due to the cost of the co-pay. According to Fisher and Hatton (2012), “co-payments contributed to delays in treatment, avoidance of health care professionals, unnecessary suffering, and poor health outcomes. …  [and] place an unfair burden on prisoners who are poor, limit access to health care, and contribute to needless suffering and potentially to preventable deaths.” 

While legislation dictates that co-pays should be waived in cases of chronic illness or mandated care, a qualitative research study found that oftentimes those exceptions aren’t equally granted or sometimes ignored entirely. Even in specific scenarios where a medical condition is covered without a copay, such as MRSA, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention identified the perceived costs as one of the leading factors in infectious disease outbreaks within prison systems. According to the Marshall Project, “with prisoners living in close quarters, any policy that deters people from going to the doctor also increases the risk of contagion.” 

Healthcare for inmates takes up approximately 20% of prison spending, a key point when arguing for co-pays in the Alabama prison system. However, research conducted in other states such as Illinois shows that the funds collected from the co-pay system in inmates don’t even cover the administrative costs associated with operating it. Additionally, since the state is required to cover the costs associated with chronic conditions, some health researchers state that it may be cost-defective to charge co-pays as minor, treatable conditions can blossom into extensive hospital stays when medical treatment is delayed. 

According to the National Commission on Correctional Healthcare, the leading arguments for a co-pay system are: 

  • The cost of medical care is an increasingly heavy burden on the financial resources of the facility, state, or county. The cost needs to be controlled legally without affecting needed care.
  • Sick call can be and is abused by some inmates. This abuse of sick call places a strain on available resources, making it more difficult to provide adequate care for inmates who really need the attention.
  • Inmates who can spend money on a candy bar or a bottle of shampoo should be able to pay for medical care with the same funds—it is a matter of priorities.
  • It will do away with frivolous requests for medical attention.
  • It cuts down on security problems in transporting inmates to and from sick call by reducing utilization.
  • It instills a sense of fiscal responsibility and forces the inmate to make mature choices on how to spend money.

Arguments against charging inmates a fee for health care services include the following:

  • Access is impeded. A fee-for-service program ignores the significance of full and unimpeded access to sick call and the importance of preventive care.
  • Inmates are almost always in an “indigent” mode. They seldom have outside resources and most have no source of income while incarcerated. They most often rely on a spouse, mother, or other family member to provide funds they can use for toiletries, over-the-counter medications like analgesics and antacids, telephone calls, writing paper and pens, sanitary napkins, candy, etc. These “extras” become extremely important to one who is locked up 24 hours per day. The inmate may well choose to forgo treatment of a medical problem in order to be able to buy the shampoo or toothpaste.
  • The program sets up two tiers of inmates: those who have funds to get medical care and commissary privileges, and those who have to choose between the two.
  • Avoiding medical care for “minor” situations can lead to serious consequences for the inmate or inmate population, since the minor situation can deteriorate to serious status or lead to the infection of others.
  • Crowded conditions increase the risk of spreading infections, and effective measures need to be taken to reduce this risk. Daily sick call should be encouraged rather than discouraged. Co-pay has been identified as a contributing factor for outbreaks of methicillin-resistant Staph aureus (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2003).
  • A properly administered sick-call program keeps costs down through a good triage system, which has a lower level of qualified staff see the complaining inmate first, with referral to higher levels of staff only as medically indicated.
  • Charging health service fees as a management tool does not recoup costs; rather, when looking at the increased administrative work involved or the long-term effect of the program, charging health service fees can cost more to implement than what is recovered.
  • Inmates frequently have low health literacy and may not understand the difference between medically significant and medically insignificant symptoms nor when it is important to seek medical services. Thus, it may be ineffective to expect inmates to determine when to pay for medical services.

Several organizations, including the NCCHC, advocate for the removal of a co-pay system. During the pandemic, many states eliminated co-pays for inmates to reduce the impact of the virus on the prison system. Additionally, states like California have voted to eliminate co-pays entirely. Alabama recently passed two pieces of legislation related to prison reform – a bill allocating nearly $800 billion to construct two new prison facilities in the state and an amendment to a previous bill that mandates supervised probation for non-violent offenders. Should the prison co-pay system be examined or overturned as well? 

If you’d like your voice heard on this issue, click here to identify your elected officials

Black & Blue: What’s Causing America’s Bruise?

June 19, 2020 by Stacy Moak, UAB Professor of Social Work


          Discussions of police in everyday life have triggered strong reactions from citizens as long as we have had the concept of police. Arguments over whether they should wear uniforms, whether they should be paid, and whether they should carry weapons have all persisted throughout time and across multiple countries. The concept of the police in America was borrowed from the British system of having “beat cops” or officers who patrolled at the local level. In England, still today, these community officers do not carry weapons. The British police force was established in 1829 and employs the concept of police by consent, not by force. As a result, the general opinion is that arming the police sends the wrong message to citizens and creates more problems than it solves. Yet, in the US, officers cannot envision a police force that is not armed with firearms. Policing in America has evolved over time and developed into a punitive system of “enforcement” that has pushed the entire system away from community problem solvers and toward a militaristic mind set of reactions to certain situations, often without rational analysis of what is actually occurring. Thus, policing has evolved more toward fighting a war– the war on drugs, the war on poverty – in which police are the soldiers and citizens are the subjects. However, the evidence is clear that overuse of police as a form of social control has devastating consequences for the health of communities (Public Health Behind Bars, Robert Greifinger, 2007). Such over-policing leads directly and indirectly to destabilized communities and overall social injustice. Further, it creates a system in which activities of the poor and minorities are more highly policed and punished than activities of the wealthy or white majority. Communities that suffer the most from over-policing generally suffer from a host of other deprivations and become tangled in a web of instability. Once that occurs, perceptions of destabilized communities begin to shape the ways that people outside the community view persons who live in those communities. Persons from those communities are often portrayed as more violent, more aggressive, and less likely to respond to reason. These labels apply to everyone from that particular community, including children, and often follow those children as they enter school. Children from these communities are labeled trouble makers at very young ages (as young as 3 or 4) and are often pushed out of mainstream educational facilities. Because of interaction with the criminal justice systems, adults have trouble finding jobs and/or stable housing, and family dynamics are disrupted. A cycle of negative police/citizen interaction begins to occur because of overuse of punitive approaches to address social problems, and police officers are tasked with providing interventions across a wide array of social services more appropriate to social workers, school and marriage counselors, substance abuse counselors, soup kitchens and homeless shelters, and general mechanic and car maintenance.

          When police are the first responders to social problems, punishment is the response most often handed down. Punishment, enforcement, and restraint are the skills for which police receive most of their training. Examples of this problem can be noted across the life span, but are perhaps most easily demonstrated in adolescents. For example, white youth and minority youth participate in delinquency such as recreational drug use, underage drinking, skipping school, fighting, and other types of delinquency at similar rates. Self-report studies indicate that delinquency is almost universal as a part of adolescent development. However, black and brown youth are held in juvenile detention centers at 3 to 4 times the rate of their white counterparts. Their numbers continue to increase even when juvenile crime statistics drop. Part of the reason for the disproportionate numbers of youth in juvenile detention stems from the presence of police officers in schools. Because these youth are identified as more dangerous and less amenable to treatment, school-based police officers respond with punitive practices that work to remove them from school. Once removed from school, the only real intervention at the community level is the juvenile court. Most black and brown youth live in urban areas with larger public schools. More police officers are assigned to these schools; therefore, more poor children and children of color are victims of overusing police and courts for behaviors more appropriately handled by schools and parents. Overuse of punitive practices creates a school to prison pipeline that suspends and expels more minority youth from school than their white counterparts. Even when youth are “caught” for the same activity, the minority youth is more likely to be arrested, petitioned to juvenile court, and detained in a detention center which sets off an array of negative interactions and social stigma that is almost impossible to overcome. The school to prison pipeline creates generational disenfranchisement, poverty, and systematic oppression of entire communities.

rates drug use sale 1080 737 80 
 Source: The Hamilton Project

          But problems in school are not the only contributor to the overuse of police in society. Lack of adequate health care also works to ensure that poor people and people of color will go to prison instead of to mental health clinics or rehabilitation centers for substance abuse and mental health issues. Instead of having diagnoses that are recognized and treated, even at very young ages, people without adequate health insurance or preventative health care are labeled by the symptoms of their illnesses. As services shrink in the community, law enforcement is used as the social service delivery system for this group. Instead of citizens receiving counseling and accurate mental health diagnosis that could treat their health issues, they are arrested, incarcerated, and offered very few if any services. For a drug charge, a person with insurance will likely go to a rehab facility. A person without insurance will likely go to prison. Studies indicate that 20% of jail inmates and 15% of prison inmates suffer from major depression or psychosis and as many as 87% of those have comorbid substance abuse issues. Citizens without insurance in our society are more likely to have unresolved trauma, which is often exacerbated by interaction with poorly trained police officers. Those same individuals are more likely to be perceived as dangerous, more aggressive, and not amenable to treatment. As a result, they are more likely to be arrested, more likely to be detained prior to trial, and more likely to be incarcerated. When they are eventually released (95% will return to communities) they are sent back to communities with little to no continuity care plan which almost insures that they will encounter the criminal justice system again.

          So, what alternative police practices and systematic strategies could we envision that would work to dismantle this perpetual cycle of violence, trauma, and overall injustice that is levied disproportionately on poor and minority communities? First, I would propose that police agencies examine the role of police in everyday life and create policies that actually reflect those defined roles. The role of the police is “to protect and serve.” Let’s unpack that statement – to protect and serve – not to arrest, apprehend, serve as judge and juror, intimidate, harass, incarcerate, shoot, bully, or kill – protect and serve. Yet most of our emphasis in police departments across the US revolves around tactical weaponry, restraint techniques, defensive driving, and legal procedures of arrest that will lead to convictions. Perhaps refocusing training on de-escalation strategies, trauma informed care, and implicit bias could provide better understanding and more opportunities for officers to assist in resolving conflicts peacefully. Do police officers really need full armored SWAT gear? And military grade weaponry? When police posture defensively as if their role is to protect themselves against dangerous citizens (again as if they are soldiers and citizens are the subjects) the response from citizens is likely also to be defensive and reactionary. Beyond new recruits at the police academy, officers who have been on the force for long periods of time and serve as field training officers need the same training as new recruits on the above-mentioned issues. Many times, they work to undermine positive training received in police academies. If these more seasoned officers resist training, or refuse to comply with new protocols, they should be reassigned to departmental activities that do not require citizen interaction. We can no longer afford to have business as usual and rely on statements like, “that’s the way it has always been.” Agencies must be proactive in removing old ways of thinking and performing and replace them with more educated and better-informed practices that work to restore police-community relations. A merit system could be implemented that rewards positive behavior with pay incentives or merit toward promotions. Police should be treated as professionals, paid as professionals, and held accountable as professionals.

 Source: Justice Policy Institute

          Secondly, I would propose that we examine the services for which police are being used in place of other, more appropriate social service delivery specialists. For example, commissioned law enforcement officers are not the proper authority to handle adolescents in schools – especially when dollars spent to employ the police could be redirected to employ social workers and counselors to address the underlying causes of much adolescent behavior. The experiment with School Resource Officers (SROs) was intended to create trust among students and police where police would function in a counselor/educator role. However, the reality has been that schools have turned over general disciplinary actions as well as drug/alcohol enforcement provisions to SROs. They do not work as much in an education/counselor capacity as they do as the enforcer for a host of school-based rule infractions that lead to more kids being suspended, expelled, or processed in juvenile court. Instead of fostering healthy relationships with police and students, students do not trust them and try to avoid them. A better alternative seems to be to employ a school based social worker at each school instead of an SRO. One argument for SROs has been the prevalence of school shootings and the need for student safety. However, school shootings were not the original intent of SROs, and school shootings remain very rare occurrences. When these tragedies do occur, it is rarely an SRO who protects students or who intervenes during these instances, which makes school safety concerns an inadequate argument for placing police officers in schools. Their presence adds to the school to prison pipeline and works to create hostility between youth and police very early in life.  Zero tolerance policies should be replaced with restorative community policies within schools to teach negotiation strategies that students could actually use in future interactions. Dialogue about complex issues should be encouraged among students and opportunities should be seized to provide education around community health, community harm, and community restoration.  

          This conversation would not be complete without recognizing that the work of policing a community is stressful. Rarely do police officers receive adequate training for the job. Even more rarely do they receive counseling and support for their own trauma that they experience on the job. For example, one of the most stressful parts of law enforcement jobs is not the hostage negotiation that ends in a shoot-out; instead, it is responding to traffic accidents. Officers might retire from the police force without ever using their firearm, but the chances of them viewing a dead child in an overturned car after a crash are high. When officers’ trauma is not addressed, that trauma becomes the lens through which everything else is viewed. A normal response is to have a heightened sense of self-preservation – and every possible encounter with a citizen presents the possibility of a negative outcome. Some of the resources within police departments should be reinvested in the officers to provide training, support, and counseling that they need to be healthy community members both on and off the job. To complement these resources, the culture within the department must also change to promote positive mental health among officers. Currently the stigma of mental health issues as signs of weakness permeate police culture. Changing those views will take time, but the culture of health that is discussed in commu
nities must also apply to police agencies throughout the US.

85 percent

Source: University of Phoenix

Police Mental Health

          Finally, and probably the most inflammatory part of this post, we must have honest conversations about the systematic racial oppression in the US and the role that all systems of government have played in developing and keeping it in place. Minority groups are presented as more dangerous, more violent, more in need of police, and only responsive to force. Such portrayals are not accidental, but work specifically to detract from empathy that might otherwise be shown to them as fellow human beings. The scourge of racism is so deeply engrained in our justice systems in the US that even minority officers do not know how to discuss it, react to it, or work to dismantle it. The militarized hierarchy within police agencies causes a veil of silence among officers who fear reprimand if they are perceived as trouble makers, liberals, or sympathizers. Citizens have so little trust in the police, or the system of justice, that they are often victims without a voice. These are not characteristics of a free society, and they must be replaced with conversation, understanding, and a shared vision for what citizens want the police to do in their communities and how that will be accomplished. In the end, police officers are public servants, and their role is to protect and serve the community and every member of the community. For anyone who reads this and has an interest in taking a deeper dive into racism in the US, I would recommend three books to readThe Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein; Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria by Beverly Daniel Tatum; and So you want to talk about race by Ijeoma Oluo.

COVID and Prisons

This piece was originally written in August 2020 by Jake Lindahl, 2020-21 Health Policy Ambassador


Schools across the country are struggling to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic. With small, poorly ventilated classrooms, high student/faculty ratios, and already overstretched budgets, the pressure is on localities to make these facilities safe. Many of the same problems have meanwhile been present in US prisons since the virus hit in March. “The number of US prison residents who tested positive for Covid-19 was 5.5 times higher than the general US population,” according to researchers at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. After decades of overcrowding and underfunding, and without many advocates to pressure from the outside, US prisons are likely the worst place to be during a deadly pandemic like COVID-19.

The United States has the highest prison population in the world with 2.12 million people incarcerated. This is down from last year, mostly due to early release for immunocompromised prisoners in some states. Prisons remain overcrowded and violent with little to no resources for mental health and widespread inadequate health and dental care. With these conditions, it is clear why COVID-19 has hit prisons so hard. There is no way to social distance in a prison. Every meal is communal. Guards and staff interact with the outside world, sometimes reintroducing the virus many times over months. US prisons are a massive petri dish for COVID-19.

Conditions are especially harsh in Alabama, where the state correctional system was exposed for breaking federal law by not providing adequate healthcare back in 2014. USA Today reported on March 9, 2020 that, “chaos, confusion and corruption” plagued the prison system despite the ongoing federal investigation. The 17th Alabama prisoner died on August 11th, and six new inmates have tested positive. This puts the total cases at 296, but the Alabama DOC admitted in July that it neglected to adequately test the prison population.