Digital Media Center
Bryant-Denny Stadium, Gate 61
920 Paul Bryant Drive
Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0370
(800) 654-4262

© 2024 Alabama Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Calls for death penalty reform continue in Alabama after internal review


Alabama advocacy groups are calling for more reform as the state wraps up an investigation on capital punishment. Governor Kay Ivey announced last week that executions of death row inmates will resume. This comes after three failed lethal injections prompted a three-month internal review of the death penalty system by the state’s Department of Corrections.

Not many details have been released about ADOC’s review of itself. But Alabama Corrections Commissioner John Hamm said he’s confident the state is ready to resume executions. He said the prison system is adding to the pool of medical professionals for execution preparations, ordered new equipment and has conducted rehearsals. But the non-profit Alabama Arise says more needs to be done, including action from state legislators.

Alabama was the only state up until 2017 where a jury could elect not to sentence someone to death and a judge could override that ruling in favor of capital punishment. The Alabama Legislature passed a bill that year to end the practice. But Mike Nicholson, a policy analyst with Alabama Arise, explains that wasn’t retroactive at the time.

“So, that meant that everyone who was on death row because of judicial override was still going to remain on death row,” said Nicholson. “So, we’ve been working on trying to get a little bit more information on who specifically that is. But we do know that more than 30 people in Alabama are on death row who were put there by a judge because of judicial override.”

Nicholson said Alabama Arise is now asking state legislators to make that 2017 bill retroactive so previous death penalty cases would be included.

This is also part of Democratic State Rep. Chris England’s Death Penalty Reform Bill that’s been pre-filed ahead of next week’s Legislative Session. England’s House Bill 14 would also allow for a death sentence to be imposed only by unanimous jury vote. Currently, judges in Alabama have the authority to impose a death sentence so long as at least 10 of 12 jurors vote to impose such a sentence.

Mike Nicholson with Alabama Arise says the non-profit supports House Bill 14, but members would ultimately like to see the death penalty done away with in the state.

“Long-term, our goal would be the elimination of the death penalty because of the biased way of how it’s used; it’s disproportionate impact on people of color and especially low-income folks,” said Nicholson. “But, in the meantime, more realistic goals would be making unanimous convictions a requirement.”

Alabama Arise isn’t the only one advocating for prisoners on death row. Back in February, over 170 local faith leaders from many denominations and traditions sent a letter to Governor Kay Ivey in the wake of a series of botched executions. In the letter, they raised concerns about capital punishment.

Dr. Joseph Scrivner is the Pastor of Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church in Tuscaloosa. He said there is a tradition of faith leaders standing for important government issues and the state’s review covered a morally heavy topic with several questions.

“There’s a strong tradition in our nation where faith leaders call our fellow citizens to do the right thing and not be caught up in mistreating one another and doing things simply because people are vulnerable and we can get away with it as a society,” said Dr. Scrivner.

The Equal Justice Initiative and the ACLU of Alabama are among others also raising concerns as the state resumes executions.

Baillee Majors is the Morning Edition host and a reporter at Alabama Public Radio.
Alex Pfenenger is a student intern in the Alabama Public Radio newsroom. He is a senior at the University of Alabama studying Creative Media. He has a passion for creating audio content, which lead him to podcasting and radio work. In his free time, Alex enjoys watching sports, listening to music, and serving at the local church.
News from Alabama Public Radio is a public service in association with the University of Alabama. We depend on your help to keep our programming on the air and online. Please consider supporting the news you rely on with a donation today. Every contribution, no matter the size, propels our vital coverage. Thank you.