Advocates push for change to Alabama prison release victim notification system

WAFF's Megan Plotka reporting
Published: Feb. 23, 2023 at 10:31 AM CST
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - A bipartisan vote led to a mass release of incarcerated people to relieve unconstitutionally overcrowded prisons in the state.

About 300 out of 400 people in January, but officials say they couldn’t release everyone as planned because the victims were not notified.

Prison rights advocates with Alabama Appleseed said this shouldn’t come as a surprise because the crime victim notification system has long-standing issues. In the 15 months between the state legislature passing the vote and the date set for the release, only 20 victims were notified.

The notification system is different among the many law enforcement entities in Alabama. Sheriff’s offices, the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles and the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) all use different systems.

ADOC allows victims to register for notification through an online form. ADOC officials do not automatically enroll victims in the program.

Alabama Appleseed leaders report there’s been a decade-long effort to streamline and manage victim notification.

2008 - 2023
2008 - 2023(Alabama Appleseed)

“Year after year after year that was a recognition that this unified system that would be automated that would contact people through email, through text it never got it just never got set up it never got up and running,” Alabama Appleseed Executive Director, Carla Crowder, said.

Crowder says state leaders have tried and failed to create a streamlined, automated victim notification system for over a decade.

The state’s efforts date back to 2008 when state leaders created their first database, AlaVINE, which is still used by sheriff’s departments. Fast forward to 2011, when the state launched another database, AlabamaCAN, which ultimately failed because money was not allocated to the program.

Crowder said throughout the next decade, money was given and taken away from victim notification systems with no substantial changes all leading up to the 2023 mass release.

“The problem is nobody said anything,” Crowder said. “Nobody at the highest levels of these large state agencies seemed to notice that the law was impossible to follow until the week it was supposed to happen.”

WAFF reached out to ADOC for comment. They sent the victim notification form and explained how to use it, but they did not answer any follow-up questions.

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