Justice Collaborative working with local groups to pay bail for people in JeffCo jail

Prosecuting marijuana in Alabama

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - The Justice Collaborative is working with local groups to help pay bail for people held in the Jefferson County jail on failure to appear warrants for nonviolent offenses.

The effort sparked after the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice and the Southern Poverty Law Center released a reported called “Alabama’s War on Marijuana” calling marijuana possession prosecution a “monumental waste of tax dollars.”

It costs Alabama taxpayers $22 million a year to prosecute marijuana possession cases according to a new study by the Alabama Appleseed center for law and justice and the southern poverty law center. The study also finds marijuana arrests disproportionately impact African Americans at much higher rates despite other studies that show blacks and whites use marijuana at the same rate.

"We seem very much stuck in the past..stuck in the war on drugs mentality. We’ve now been fighting the war on drugs for over 40 years and marijuana is just as available and cheap as it’s ever been,” Frank Knaack, Executive Director of the Alabama Appleseed Center said.

Knaack says the consequences of a marijuana possession arrest can last for years and could have a significant impact on someone's life by limiting their access to employment and housing which could trap people in a never-ending cycle of court debt.

"You have someone that’s caught up in the cycle of paying money for a low level offense that can cost them in the long run a felony which can keep them from getting a job to actually pay for those fines and fees that they owe,” Stephanie Hicks, director of the Offender Alumni Association said.

This week, The Justice Collaborative is working with local groups to help pay bail for people held in the Jefferson County jail on failure to appear warrants for nonviolent offenses like marijuana possession. The effort was sparked after the war on marijuana report.

Hicks hopes the report will lead to some changes in the criminal justice system when it comes to low level offenses. "We have punished our way into this particular cycle of incarcerating poor people.

"Why don’t we figure out ways to do alternatives like maybe community service opposed to cash money?,” Hicks added.

Of course marijuana possession is illegal in Alabama and critics say it can be a gateway to stronger drugs. The Appleseed Center says the state can spend the $22 million on more important things like hiring teachers and hiring more correctional officers to a system that needs it.

You can read the full report here.

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