Bill drafted to limit parole board’s discretion on violent inmates

Changes to come to Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The governor’s moratorium restricting early parole consideration for violent inmates has been lifted.

Now the state legislature will consider its own limitations. The Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles has new early parole procedures in place through the recent Corrective Action plan, following allegations it was considering parole for non-eligible, violent offenders - but Sen. Cam Ward doesn’t believe that’s enough.

“I think the problem is there’s too many exceptions and too much discretion,” Ward said of the recent amendments to the Board’s plan. “I argued in 2015 when we were looking at the non-violent offenses - maybe we need to reign in the discretion to tighten the procedures but I lost that battle.”

No opposition is expected this session.

Ward plans to put the board’s statutory guidelines in a bill to hold them accountable.

“We will go to a system that follows guidelines and rules set in place by pardons and paroles, but is being ignored by pardons and paroles regarding violent inmates,” he explained.

The board’s guidelines require those convicted of a violent offense with serious injury to serve 15 years or 85 percent of their sentence, whichever comes first, to be parole eligible.

“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.”, as cited in the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles' guidelines.

The 2015 Justice Reinvestment Act aimed to decrease Alabama’s non-violent prison population. Following that sweeping change, violent inmates are now the majority.

“But they are still paroling the same number of people every year,” stated Ward. “In reality that number should probably be decreasing some now, because the people who are non-violent or least likely to re-offend - there’s not that many of those people in there now.”

A recent board report cites 6,996 inmates were considered for parole during the 2018 fiscal year, 54 percent were granted parole. That’s nearly a 25 percent increase in the number of paroles granted in since 2013.

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