Alabama Appleseed report highlights experiences of violent crime victims

Report: Many victims have been in jail themselves and fear or mistrust law enforcement

By: - June 13, 2023 2:15 pm
A handcuffed pair of hands poking through a set of prison bars.

Prison reform advocates hope to build on momentum from previous victories. (File/Getty)

A criminal justice reform organization has published a report highlighting the trauma, tragedy, and experiences of victims of violent crime or their loved ones.

In a report titled “Afterward,” published April 27, staff at Alabama Appleseed paint a portrait of people who have been victimized and their experiences with the criminal justice system.

“Our goal in doing this work was to better understand what this community experiences,” said Leah Nelson, research director at Alabama Appleseed, in an interview on Monday. “Who these people are who experience the criminal justice system, both when they break laws and when they are crime victims. What they feel, what they need, what they want, what they are already doing, all those things.”

The report includes are references to articles that were published by the Alabama Reflector.

The report stresses that many communities do not have access to public safety resources, and many of them are society’s most vulnerable and “more invisible,” Nelson said.

Appleseed researchers surveyed 401 people who had experiences with violent crime, distributing the survey at job fairs, libraries, churches, and drug treatment centers. They then supplemented the surveys with community interviews by Callie Greer, a community navigator with Alabama Appleseed, who has experienced violent crime herself. That was followed by one-on-one interviews.

About 57% or the participants were female and 63% were Black. The report included a map of the locations where the surveys were distributed. There were clusters in the state’s major cities such as Birmingham, Montgomery, Huntsville, and Mobile.

Many suffered from want. Roughly 46% said they felt they didn’t have enough to eat and 40% went without water for drinking and washing, or without heat in the winter.

Nearly all of the younger respondents said they witnessed violence in their own families.84% of those said that when they were under the age of 18 they had seen some type of violence between adults in their home.

Almost 60% of those surveyed said they had been violently assaulted or beaten. Another 52% reported they had lost a loved one to homicide. About 45% said they had been shot at.

The report found many victims had been caught in the criminal justice system. About 70% of those who participated had been convicted of a crime themselves. About 65% had a felony conviction while another 61% were convicted of a misdemeanor.

Most of those surveyed were taken into custody for theft of property, drug possession and robbery and receiving stolen property. Among them is Bryttian Linn, 26, a resident of Calhoun County.

According to the report, Jamie Linn, Bryttian Linn’s mother, called the police because of death threats that a person made against her. When the sheriff’s department arrived on scene, the deputy checked Bryttian Linn’s name in the system and found a warrant for missing a court hearing related to a traffic stop months earlier. Bryttian Lynn had not been wearing a seatbelt and did not have auto insurance. Bryttian Linn could not afford the fines and fees from the stop, and a hearing was set to establish a payment plan.

Bryttian Linn attended an August hearing and left with the understanding that the judge had agreed to push back the court date, so she didn’t attend the September hearing. A warrant was issued in October for the missed hearing.

When Bryttian Linn arrived at the jail, she was placed in solitary confinement because she had been sexually assaulted in jail from a prior arrest back in 2020. Assigned male at birth, Bryttian Linn uses female pronouns and wears her hair long. According to the report, jail officials put her in a cell by herself, without running water or a working toilet, because her feminine presentation put her at risk of violence from other people incarcerated in the area of the jail reserved for men

“The smell in there … It smelled like death,” Linn told Alabama Appleseed. “There was blood splatter on the bedframe and on the walls.”

A district court employee told her that she could be released if she paid $405 in fines and fees, but she didn’t have the money. After six days in jail, she saw a judge by video from jail who released her without requiring payment.

“Just being here and dealing with all of this. I’m just tired,” Bryttian Linn said.

The report also notes many victims are wary of contacting law enforcement.

“I think that the single number that I found most unsettling is that the majority of people we surveyed agreed with the statement that they, ‘never or almost never call the police in response to violence that they witnessed or experienced’,” Nelson said. “It just emphasizes just how inaccessible the system that we fund and have in place to respond to violence is to the people who need them.”

According to the report, about a quarter said they believe police may not want to help them. Another 24% stated they would not be taken seriously by law enforcement.

Some had such a negative experience that they are distrustful of law enforcement. Among them was Robert Walton, who lives in Montgomery, whose experience was detailed in the report.

In 1982 Walton was walking home when police pulled him over and picked him up on the street, claiming he had broken into someone’s apartment. He was taken to the station, and into a room where a person was supposed to identify him. The person told police he was not the perpetrator.

The detectives uncuffed him and told him he was free to go.

“‘Well, it’s 3:30am, can you at least take me home?’” Walton asked. “They said it’s not their responsibility. I said, ‘whose responsibility is it?’”

Almost 40% of the people who participated in the report were rape survivors. About 56% had experienced sexual assault and another 59% were assaulted and beaten.

Many victims of domestic violence have substance abuse issues and they are afraid they will be arrested themselves. Another vulnerable group is the Hispanic population because of the language barrier. Many times, translators are not available to take a report. Some have said that officers refuse to take reports because they are unable to understand what the victim is saying.

“I think that we need an additional form of support for people that acknowledges people’s lives are very complicated,” Nelson said. “No matter how complicated your life is, if somebody is killed, and you relied on that person for anything, you need help.”

The report suggested alternatives to incarceration, including policies and practices that focus on correcting the issues instead of punishment. It cited the Lovelady Center in Birmingham and the Foundry in Bessemer as examples of places providing counseling, job training as well as other rehabilitative programs.

“We have a model with peer specialists in this state for people with a substance abuse disorder where the Alabama Department of Mental Health has a whole staff of people who are in recovery, who help support recovery in others,” Nelson said.

She wants to apply that model for people affected by violent crimes, taking people who have lived through the trauma to help others they can relate to and can be trusted.

“Just to be there after a homicide, and make sure those immediate needs, which don’t have anything to do with the criminal justice system, things like emergency rental assistance, or diapers, or help with funeral expenses, to make sure those needs are met immediately,” Nelson said.

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Ralph Chapoco
Ralph Chapoco

Ralph Chapoco covers state politics as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. His main responsibility is the criminal justice system in Alabama.