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SPLC Report Exposes Rampant Racial Disparities in Alabama’s Juvenile Justice System

Overreliance on lucrative contracts focus on profit not rehabilitation

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Today, the Southern Poverty Law Center(SPLC) released a new report on the disturbing state of Alabama’s youth legal system, which for years has overly criminalized Black youth, pushing them out of school without due process and into abusive and costly youth detention facilities.

The report, Only Young Once: Alabama’s Overreliance on School Pushout and For-Profit Youth Incarceration, examines how the state’s system has produced these persistent racial disparities causing great harm to Black youth while creating a windfall for for-profit youth detention facilities repeatedly exposed for rampant abuse and prioritizing profit over rehabilitation.

“For too long, Alabama has propped up a system that pushes youth out of schools and into the criminal legal system where they are subjected to incalculable harm while state contractors seek to maximize profit,” said Delvin Davis, senior policy analyst with the SPLC and author of the report. “The current system is miserably failing both Alabama’s youth and taxpayers, and lawmakers have a chance to address it this legislative session.”

For decades, policymakers have focused on “get tough” approaches, leaving Alabama with the sixth-highest suspension and expulsion rates and eighth-highest youth incarceration rate in the nation. 

These youth pushed into the state’s youth legal system are often held at youth detention facilities, which have proven to be dangerously abusive to youth. At these facilities, youth experience incalculable harm from excessive solitary confinement, physical and sexual abuse, and educational disruption – all contributing to recidivism.

Meanwhile, state taxpayers are footing the exorbitant costs of the facilities. In fact, incarcerating a young person in Alabama for one year in a public facility ($161,694) or private facility ($120,450) is more expensive than the annual cost to educate that child in Alabama public schools ($12,092), fund community-based programs ($20,075), and pay for attendance at the University of Alabama and Auburn University combined ($54,672).  

To address these horrific problems, the SPLC recommends Alabama must:  

  • Raise the minimum age of youth incarceration and prosecution in the state from 11 to at least 14.
  • End exclusionary and punitive discipline as an arbitrary, routine practice and require that local school boards create due process protections against long-term suspensions and expulsions.
  • Invest in community-based alternatives to youth incarceration, and school-based policies that prioritize rehabilitation and services to support children’s needs.
  • Make nonviolent offenses, especially technical violations and nonviolent drug offenses, non-jailable offenses for youth.
  • Discontinue the use of privately owned for-profit youth incarceration facilities.  

“Through legislation that prioritizes youth rehabilitation, disruption of the school-to-prison pipeline and investment in the successful futures of children, Alabama legislators can make tremendous progress reforming this broken system,” Davis said.

The Alabama report is the third in the Only Young Once series, which focuses on the troubling pattern of youth legal systems in the Deep South prioritizing incarceration over rehabilitation – with disparate impacts on Black youth. Last year, the SPLC released reports focused on the youth legal systems in Louisiana and Mississippi.

The full report can be found HERE: