Ala. parole board tightens rules on violent offenders

The Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles will no longer consider early parole for inmates guilty of the most serious felonies involving serious physical injury

By Mike Cason
Alabama Media Group

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles will no longer consider early parole for inmates guilty of the most serious felonies involving serious physical injury under a corrective action plan ordered by Gov. Kay Ivey.

The board released the plan it sent to the governor and Attorney General Steve Marshall today.

On Oct. 15, Ivey ordered the board to come up with a corrective action plan within 30 days after she and Marshall met with the three board members to discuss concerns raised by victims’ advocates and prosecutors.

In an executive order issued that day, Ivey said the board was giving early parole consideration to hundreds of violent offenders without justification. Ivey placed a moratorium on early paroles.

The corrective action plan, signed by Board Chairman Lyn Head and Associate Board members Cliff Walker and Dwayne Spurlock, said, “The Board is committed to fulfilling its public safety role. Specifically, we expect our employees to be responsive to crime victims, law enforcement, inmate families, and all stakeholders; and we expect employees to perform their duties with the highest professionalism.”

The governor and attorney general said they are reviewing the plan and would discuss it internally before further action or comment.

Last month, the governor and attorney general did not give a list of specific parole cases that caused concerns. But one case stood out. An inmate who was paroled last year was charged with murdering three people in Guntersville in July.

Parole board rules set guidelines for when prisoners are eligible to be considered for parole. Inmates guilty of some of the most serious crimes must serve at least 10 years or one-third of their sentence, whichever is less, to be eligible. Those convicted of the worst offenses, including murder, rape, first-degree robbery and some others, have to serve longer, 85 percent of their sentence or 15 years, to be eligible.

But the parole board’s rules have allowed exceptions to those standards for mitigating circumstances, meaning that inmates can come up for parole consideration earlier.

Today’s corrective action plan takes that possibility away for some. It says inmates convicted of Class A felonies involving serious physical injury must serve 85 percent of their sentences or 15 years, whichever is less, to be eligible for parole, regardless of any mitigating circumstances. Sex offenders whose victims were younger than 12 will also be required to serve 85 percent or 15 years before parole eligibility without exception. And the same new restriction applies to inmates convicted of manslaughter who received a sentence of more than 15 years.

The parole board’s plan also notes that in August it established a new rule that early parole could not be considered more than three years before the standard eligibility date. Before that, there was no limit on how early parole could be considered, the board said.

Today’s corrective plan also calls for more training and better communications with victims' families and law enforcement. It calls for additional reviews to ensure accurate calculations of parole eligibility. The plan says protocol will be improved to ensure that victims receive accurate and consistent information.

The plan also notes some of the challenges facing the agency. It says the offender-to-parole officer ratio has risen over the last 10 years to 165-to-1, far above a goal of 75-to-1. It says funding has been available to hire more officers but the agency has struggled to find qualified candidates who can pass the physical agility and other requirements. Also, it says the entry-level salary is not competitive with other law enforcement agencies.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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