Bill to limit parole board’s discretion to be introduced in upcoming session

Bill to limit parole board discretion to be introduced in upcoming session

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Changes could be on the horizon for the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles.

State leaders are still evaluating the Board’s Corrective Action Plan which was submitted this week. That plan was prompted by the governor after dozens of violent inmates were scheduled for early parole consideration.

The Board of Pardons and Paroles is arguably one of the most powerful entities in the state, with little accountability, but that could soon change.

Sen. Cam Ward, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he’s working on a plan to rein in the Board’s discretion.

“Unless you have some sort of impeachment, there’s nothing you can do to them," Ward stated.

When Ward was working on the Justice Reinvestment Initiative in 2015, he proposed limiting some of the Board's power.

“There was resistance to that, and the Justice Reinvestment Initiative had very little with who was paroled, or how they were paroled,” he explained. “I believed they had too much discretion, I said it in 2015, and I believe the same thing today.”

Ward is working with law enforcement and prosecutors to draft a bill imposing accountability for the Board to follow their self-imposed guidelines.

“Take their policies and procedures and put it in the statute,” Ward said of the forthcoming legislation. “What we are dealing with here at the Parole Board are murders, rapists, child molesters, and [the Board members] are taking their own guidelines and throwing them out the window and making it up as they go along.”

Ward believes the early release of violent inmates is responsible for a statewide increase in crime.

“We’ve seen a 25 percent spike in violent crime rate and a big part of that is due to those who were previously incarcerated being released too early,” Ward stated. “I think the Parole Board was being way too generous in the number of people they were releasing who were previously convicted of violent crimes.”

Ward denies the Board was pressured to release more inmates due to prison overcrowding, and isn't sure what prompted their actions.

“The Justice Reinvestment Initiative dealt with non-violent offenses,” he explained.

Non-violent offenders now account for less than 15 percent of the current prison population, according to numbers Ward stated during an interview.

He wants to ensure the Department of Corrections (DOC) isn’t a revolving door for the same inmates.

“If they follow their Corrective Plan to the letter, then they should be OK,” Ward stated. “But then my concern is that plan is pretty much what the guidelines are anyway - it really didn’t change much.”

Ward was citing the proposal to eliminate a process the Board calls ‘select review,’ or the opportunity to request an early parole hearing for those convicted of a Class A Felony that imposed serious physical injury, sex offenders with a victim 12 years old or under, or those convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to more than 15 years behind bars.

Those offenders would serve 15 years or 85 percent of their sentence, whichever comes first, to become eligible for parole.

The current guidelines state;

"Excluding those crimes committed prior to March 21, 2001, when an inmate is convicted of one or more of the following Class A felonies, the initial parole consideration date shall be set in conjunction with the inmate’s completion of eighty-five (85) percent of his or her total sentence or fifteen (15) years, whichever is less, unless the designee finds mitigating circumstances: Rape I, Kidnapping I, Murder, Attempted Murder, Sodomy I, and Sexual Torture; Robbery I with serious physical injury, Burglary I with serious physical injury, and Arson I with serious physical injury. Serious physical injury in this paragraph is as defined in title 13A-1-2(14) of the Alabama Code."

Ward will introduce the bill in March during the regular legislative session.

Until then, the governor and attorney general must approve the Board’s Corrective Action Plan. The moratorium on early parole hearings for violent inmates is still in place.

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