Monday, September 15, 2008

AL Tour: Advocates Launch Historic Drive to Register Eligible Voters

For Immediate Release: Contact: Rev. Ken Glasgow 334-791-2433
Gabriel Sayegh 646-335-2264
September 15, 2008
Advocates Launch Historic Drive to Register Eligible Alabama Voters, Including Those Convicted of Felony Drug Possession

Families, Formerly Incarcerated People, Religious Leaders, Treatment and Sentencing Experts Declare: Don’t Criminalize People with Drug Problems, Provide Treatment and Restoration

Voter Drive to Include Town Hall Events in Five Cities across Alabama:
“Voter Disfranchisement and the War On Drugs:
What’s Civil Right’s Got to Do With It?”

In Alabama, nearly 250,000 people have been stripped their voting rights due to a felony conviction. But in a 2006 court ruling in Alabama, a judge found that only those persons convicted of felonies of “moral turpitude” lose their right to vote. The judge found that certain felonies—such as drug possession—do not constitute crimes of moral turpitude, and therefore individuals convicted of those crimes do not lose their right to vote, even during incarceration.

Alabama-based The Ordinary People’s Society and their national partner the Drug Policy Alliance estimate that over 50,000 people convicted of non-moral turpitude felonies in Alabama have been wrongly denied their right to vote, or believe they do not have that right due to a conviction. An additional 6 – 7,000 more people currently incarcerated in Alabama state prisons may also be eligible to vote.

Join Dothan-based The Ordinary People’s Society and their national partner the Drug Policy Alliance on their statewide tour to discuss Alabama’s drug war and its impact on democracy.

What: “Voter Disfranchisement and the War On Drugs: What’s Civil Right’s Got to Do With It?”

When: 9/15 – 9/19. Each event begins at 6 p.m .
Where: 9/15 in Huntsville; 9/16 in Birmingham; 9/17 in Mobile; 9/18 in Dothan; 9/19 in Montgomery. Each event begins at 6 p.m. Call for event locations.

Who: Rev. Kenneth Glasgow. Founder and Executive Director, The Ordinary People’s Society (TOPS). (Dothan, AL)
Daris Johnson. Director, TOPS Young People’s Project. (Enterprise, AL)
Gabriel Sayegh. Director, Organizing and Policy Project, Drug Policy Alliance (New York, NY)

Alabama is facing a crisis. The state has the 6th highest rate of incarceration in the U.S. A prison system designed for 12,500 people now holds nearly 30,000. As a result of the drug war, non-violent drug offenses make up approximately 30% of all felony convictions in Alabama, and people convicted of non-violent drug and property offenses comprise nearly half of the state’s prison population. Nearly 50% of prisoners are serving prison time for a drug related crime. And over 250,000 people are barred from voting due to felony disfranchisement laws. A recent court ruling, however, found that people convicted of drug possession, among other offenses, do not lose their right to vote. This change could have an impact on nearly 70,000 Alabamians, including nearly 10,000 currently incarcerated in state prisons.

While drug use is equal across all racial groups, Black people are incarcerated for drug crimes at higher rates than whites. Blacks make up only 26% of Alabama’s population, but are nearly 60% of the prison population. And for every white person in an Alabama jail, there are about 4 Black people.

Alabama is spending millions to incarcerate people when treatment is more effective and far cheaper. The average cost to keep a person in prison in Alabama is almost $13,000 per year. The average cost of a full treatment program per client is approximately $4,300. Over time, the savings from treatment are significant: Studies by the RAND Corporation have shown that every additional dollar invested in substance abuse treatment saves taxpayers $7.46 in societal costs.

“We’ve got to start restoring people’s lives, by providing treatment, by restoring the right to vote,” said Reverend Kenneth Glasgow, Executive Director of The Ordinary People’s Society and state coordinator of the New Bottom Line Campaign. “When a person get’s a felony conviction, they can lose more than their voting rights, they can lose public assistance, public housing, financial aid for school. The drug war became a war on people and we spend more on incarceration than on treatment. Why do we spend more on producing criminals than producing citizens? We need a new bottom line.”

In 2005, according to the Office of Applied Studies, Substance Abuse and Mental Health
Services, the substance abuse statistics for the state of Alabama stated:

• 246,000 people had alcohol dependency
• Total admissions for alcohol rehabilitation and treatment was 2,427
• Less than 1% (actually.009%) of Alabamians received treatment for alcohol

Other Drug Abuse
• 113,000 people had drug dependency other than alcohol
• Total admissions for drug rehabilitation and treatment was 12,645
• 11% of those needing treatment were provided with treatment

The New York Times

March 2, 2008 Sunday

Fighting to Regain Right Some Felons Never Lost


LENGTH: 1200 words


The Rev. Kenneth Glasgow, onetime criminal and founder of a ministry called
The Ordinary People Society, spent years helping people with criminal records
regain the right to vote in Alabama, where an estimated 250,000 people are
prohibited from voting because of past criminal activity.

Then he discovered that many of them had never actually lost the right.

Because of a quirk in its Constitution, Alabama disqualifies from voting
only those who have committed a ''felony involving moral turpitude.'' Those who
have committed other felonies -- like marijuana possession or drunken driving --
can cast ballots even if they are still in prison, according to the state
attorney general.

But it has been slow work cajoling public officials to enforce and
publicize the law. Until Friday, the secretary of state's Web site advised,
incorrectly, that those with any kind of felony conviction could not register
unless they had served their time and their right to vote had been restored by
the Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Because neither the Legislature nor the attorney general has offered a
definitive list of crimes involving moral turpitude, there is no way of knowing
how many inmates are eligible to vote. But state agencies generally agree that
those convicted of drug possession -- at least 3,000 of Alabama's 29,000 prison
inmates and thousands more on probation -- are eligible. Most felons and former
felons, however, assume that they have lost the right to vote.

''This is an issue that's never come up before,'' said Richard F. Allen,
the commissioner of corrections. ''I would think that if there were any latent
feeling out there that they wanted to vote, they would have expressed it by

Mr. Glasgow, who is the half-brother of a far less obscure crusader based
in New York, the Rev. Al Sharpton, believes that not only do inmates and former
convicts want to vote, but also that their ballots could alter the political
landscape in this Republican-leaning state, adding that his group has
registered more than 500 people by visiting a handful of county jails.

''There would be a lot of difference in our legislators, our elected
officials and our presidents that we've had,'' he said. ''It would definitely
change the political spectrum of Alabama.''

Republicans agree. They railed against a statute passed in 2003 that made
it easier for some former felons to regain their voting rights by side-stepping
a lengthy and backlogged pardon process.

''There's no more anti-Republican bill than this,'' said Marty Connors, the
chairman of the state Republican Party, according to news reports at the time.
''As frank as I can be, we're opposed to it because felons don't tend to vote

In the two years after the 2003 statute took effect, more than 5,500 former
felons had their rights restored, and interest in the November presidential
election is running high, said Sarah Still, manager of the pardons department.
In January, Ms. Still received more than 280 applications for voting rights, up
from an average of 140 a month last fall.

Nationally, 5.3 million people are barred from voting because of their
criminal history, according to a 2004 estimate cited by the Sentencing Project,
a criminal justice policy group. In the last decade, as criminals who were swept
into prison during the drug war have been released and the difficulty of
re-integrating them into society has become clear, at least 16 states have made
it easier for former felons to vote.

But in the South, where restrictions on former convicts are among the most
severe and in many cases date to Jim Crow laws, there have been fewer changes.
Last Monday the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit in protest of a 2006
Tennessee law that requires former convicts to pay back child support before
regaining the right to vote. In Alabama, the Republican attorney general, Troy
King, has proposed a constitutional amendment that would delete the moral
turpitude clause, prohibiting all felons from voting.

Though he is an active Democrat, Mr. Glasgow, 42, says his main goal is not
to aid his party but to help former inmates become productive members of

But for most of his own life he was hardly an exemplar of civic engagement.
Mr. Sharpton, in his memoir, ''Go and Tell Pharaoh,'' says his parents'
marriage was wrecked when his father, Al Sharpton Sr., had an affair with his
mother's teenage daughter from a previous marriage, resulting in the birth of

By the time Kenneth was a teenager, his mother had taken him to her
hometown, Dothan, Ala., where he began to get in trouble for selling drugs,
became addicted to crack cocaine and did time in Alabama and Florida for armed
robbery and other crimes.

It was during his longest stint in prison, nine years, that the genes of
activism and oratory that run in Mr. Glasgow's family emerged and he began to
preach. When he was released in 2001, the bondsman who had repeatedly bailed him
out of jail became treasurer of The Ordinary People Society and paid for Mr.
Glasgow to attend seminary.

Mr. Glasgow opened a soup kitchen, held church services under a white tent
and began to help former convicts like Anna Reynolds, a recovering addict,
regain the right to vote -- a process often made onerous by the moral-turpitude

As a legal concept, moral turpitude refers to conduct that would be immoral
even if it were not illegal, unlike, say, speeding. The delegates to the 1901
constitutional convention who used the term also took away voting rights for
other infractions that they believed blacks were more likely to commit, like
wife beating, adultery and vagrancy. In 1985 the United States Supreme Court
struck down most of the law on the grounds that it was racially discriminatory,
but the moral-turpitude clause remained.

Most officials in Alabama were unaware of the clause until 2005, when it
came to light after a man on probation tried to vote in St. Clair County. The
parole board requested clarification, and the attorney general responded with an
incomplete categorization of felonies based largely on previous court decisions.

The opinion leaves a large gray area, said Ms. Still of the pardons
department. It says, for example, that rape is a crime of moral turpitude and
that assault is not, but offers no clarification on variations like statutory
rape or assault with intent to kill.

The parole board settled on a policy of treating drug possession and drunk
driving as crimes devoid of moral turpitude, but that has not put an end to the
confusion, Mr. Glasgow said.

Initially Ms. Reynolds, 52, was told by the local registrar that she could
not vote because of a conviction for drug possession. She applied to the parole
board, which told her that it could not restore her right to vote because she
had never lost it. Finally, The Ordinary People Society helped cut through the
red tape.

On Feb. 5, Ms. Reynolds stood outside the public library handing out sample
ballots before casting her own. ''Voting, that's part of getting back to normal
life,'' she said. ''I've been out of the loop for a long time, and it was good
to have help getting back into the loop.''

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