Alabama House approves bill allowing juvenile detention facilities to define contraband

House Democrats say it could cause unintended consequences

By: - May 18, 2023 3:01 pm
A woman speaking with her head turned to the left.

Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, D-Birmingham, speaks with a colleague on the floor of the Alabama Senate on March 7, 2023. Legislators gathered Tuesday for the first day of the Alabama Legislature’s 2023 regular session. (Brian Lyman/Alabama Reflector)

The Alabama House of Representatives approved a bill Thursday that would allow detention facilities to develop their own definitions of contraband and punish juveniles for contraband possession as adults.  

SB 120, sponsored by Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, D-Birmingham, passed 98-3. The bill was amended and goes back to the Senate for concurrence or a conference committee.

Rep. Tim Wadsworth, R-Arley, who carried the bill in the House, said it would give detention facilities and county jails “the ability to define what contraband is.” 


“If someone brings contraband, and [facilities] don’t have the authority to find what contraband is, you have people bring in anything that shouldn’t be in a facility,” he said. “They cannot charge those individuals.”

The bill would make it a Class C felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, for juveniles to obtain “any deadly weapon, instrument, tool, or other item that may be useful for escape,” as well as bringing, obtaining, possessing or making “any narcotic, dangerous drug or controlled substance.”

A person who introduces, makes, obtains or possesses any contraband that the juvenile “knows, or should know,” to be unlawful to introduce or for the inmate or juvenile to possess could be charged with a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $3,000 fine.

House Democrats said the bill could target the wrong people.

Rep. Mary Moore, D-Birmingham, said juvenile facilities may add something to the contraband list that is “unreasonable, because we didn’t put anything specific in our bills.” 

She said that they should instead focus on prison workers who may bring in contraband to inmates and juveniles, which she said has been part of the overall issue of contraband in detention facilities.

“That’s one thing that we need to look at, because some of these young people wouldn’t know if the workers had exposed them. Sometimes the worker exposes them to the contraband before the inmates do,” Moore said.

Rep. Barbara Drummond, D-Mobile, speaks to colleagues on the floor of the Alabama House of Representatives on May 11, 2023. (Brian Lyman/Alabama Reflector)

Rep. Barbara Drummond, D-Mobile, said that she was worried about unintended consequences. For example, she said that it would be a problem if a juvenile has a piece of paper with an individual’s CashApp information, an app that provides for money transfers, and a facility decides the piece of paper, without knowledge about the services, is contraband.

“Because we don’t have a list of the contraband, we have a lot of people that sit down and say – at the moment that I felt like this sheet of paper that you had with some numbers on it can be contraband,” she said.

Wadsworth said that the Department of Corrections would have the authority to remove or add to a facility’s list of contraband.

“Sometimes we have unintended consequences, and that these are young people that we’re talking about, and we’re not trying to make it where we’re going to have young people adjudicated to the prison system,” Drummond said.


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Alander Rocha
Alander Rocha

Alander Rocha is a journalist based in Montgomery, and he reports on government, policy and healthcare. He previously worked for KFF Health News and the Red & Black, Georgia's student newspaper. He is a Tulane and Georgia alumnus with a two-year stint in the U.S. Peace Corps.