AL parole board submits corrective action plan to Gov. Ivey

AL parole board submits corrective action plan to Gov. Ivey

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles met the deadline to submit a corrective action plan that was ordered by the governor 30 days ago.

Gov. Kay Ivey ordered the Board of Pardons and Paroles to submit a corrective action plan to her office and that of the attorney general on or before Nov. 14. The plan arrived shortly before the 5 p.m. deadline Wednesday.

“The Governor’s Office has received the Board of Pardons and Paroles’ corrective action plan," Ivey’s office confirmed. "The plan is now being reviewed internally. Upon completion of that review, Governor Ivey will discuss it with the Attorney General before any further action is taken.”

Ivey issued Executive Order 716, a top to bottom review of the agency with a requirement for proposed solutions, after the Board scheduled hundreds of violent inmates for early parole hearings and granted the early release of violent inmate Jimmy O’Neal Spencer, who allegedly went on to kill three people in Marshall County, including a 7-year-old boy.

Ivey announced the call for a corrective action plan following what she described as a “disappointing” meeting with the Board and other state stakeholders. The order cited the Board’s early parole practices as unjustified by state law and a threat to public safety, explaining their failure to properly evaluate the inmates suitability for parole.

In the plan’s introduction, the Board stated its commitment to fulfilling its public safety role and would address the governor’s concerns until ‘they are no longer concerns’. The Corrective Action Plan is organized by the four areas of concern listed in the Executive Order (listed in bold).

Ensuring excellence in executive leadership: Address changes, if any, to the Board’s senior executive leadership, organizational structure, leadership development, continuing education, employee-morale programs, processes for ongoing self-evaluation and improvement.

The Board responded by saying its Executive Leadership Team (which consists of the Executive Director, three Assistant Executive Directors, the agency’s personnel director, accounting director, IT director, and association general counsel) has been “directed to immediately begin examining the operations of the agency to address concerns, shortcomings, and areas for improvement.” Further, the Board states that the team is to meet routinely and focus on the priorities identified by them. The next meeting is set for Nov. 28.

The team is also expected to “stay sharp by continuing education in matters related to pardons and paroles and in leadership,” with the Board citing examples of continuing education and training by its members.

Cultivating a culture of respect towards victims and law enforcement: Address changes, if any, to the Board’s victim and law enforcement notification procedures, handling of telephone and email communications initiated by victims and law enforcement, general outreach activities regarding law enforcement, victims, and training of personnel responsible for notification and contact with victims and law enforcement.

The Board responded by saying “reasonable efforts are made to locate and notify victims for whom notification is statutorily required,” but noted, “Recently, agency decisions in a few of the thousands of cases handled this year have caused concerns regarding public trust in Board operations, procedures, and performance.”

The Board said it takes the concerns “very seriously,” pointing to “the concerns that relate to the early setting of parole hearings and diligence in locating victims and notifying them of scheduled hearings.”

Seven steps are being planned within 30 days to address concerns in that area.

  1. The Victims' Services Unit Staff will receive supplemental training in interacting with victims with respect and compassion
  2. A committee formed to guide the training of Central Office staff in handling telephone and email communications initiated by victims and law enforcement will meet to set goals for improving professionalism.
  3. Protocol will be improved to ensure the elevation of victims' questions to senior supervisors, to deliver accurate and consistent information to victims
  4. An additional supervisor will now review parole cases involving a victim, prior to docketing, as a check to ensure accurate calculations of parole eligibility.
  5. Information technology staff will meet to plan for the modernization of the agency’s website, which will better aid victims, law enforcement, and other stakeholders seeking information.
  6. Members of the Victim Location/Notification Unit will begin receiving supplemental training on policies concerning location and notification.
  7. Probation officers statewide will start meeting regularly with local law enforcement, including sheriffs, chiefs of police, district attorneys and presiding judges, to discuss issues of public safety.

Ensuring adequate preparation for parole hearings: Address changes, if any, to the Board’s operation procedures governing early parole consideration, compliance with any existing procedures governing early parole consideration, and processes for gathering adequate information to assess an inmate’s suitability for parole.

The Board responded by saying “preparation for parole hearings begin in the Docket Unit” and outlined four actions it will implement over the next 30 days.

  1. The agency will provide supplemental training to Board Operations clerical staff to ensure everyone knows what information needs to be verified prior to docketing a parole hearing.
  2. The Executive Director and appropriate staff will meet to address the need for an electronic means of computing parole eligibility, to reduce human error in calculating parole eligibility dates. Procurement of software and other resources may be necessary.
  3. The early parole consideration process was recently improved in one what and will soon be improved in six more ways: First, A 3-year maximum on early parole considerations; Second, The Select Review Committee , which discerns which cases are appropriate for early consideration, will have three senior supervisors, one or more of whom must have five years' experience in the Central Office; Third, A Division Director will now have to review and approve cases requiring victim notification before it is docketed; Fourth, Inmates convicted of Class A felonies with serious physical injury to a victim are not eligible for select review process. They will have to serve 85 percent of their sentence or 15 years, whichever is less, before parole eligibility; Fifth, A new checklist will be used by the review committee to record reasons for granting/denying early parole consideration; Sixth, Sex offenders whose victims was under age 12 are not eligible for the select review process. They will have to serve 85 percent or 15 years of their sentence, whichever is less, before parole eligibility; Seventh, Inmates convicted of manslaughter and given a sentence greater than 15 years are not eligible for select review process and must serve 85 percent or 15 years of their sentence, whichever is less, before parole eligibility. 
  4. Institutional Parole Officers, or IPOs, will be required to have a minimum of five years' experience as a probation and parole officer.

Maintaining supervision of parolees: Address changes, if any, to processes for supervising parolees and processes for responding to an absconded parolee or a parolee that seriously violates conditions of parole and the subsequent notification of law enforcement.

The Board’s plan cites the significant challenges of obtaining an adequate number of parole officers, saying that “maintaining adequate parole officer numbers has been a challenge”citing requirements of each officer to hold a bachelor’s degree, completion of Alabama Peace Officers' Standards Training (APOST) certification, increasing caseloads, funding, difficulty finding qualified officers who can pass physical agility requirements, and an entry-level salary that is not competitive.

“Our goal has been to reduce the officer to offender ratio to 75-1. Currently, the ratio is 165-1,” the Board stated,

The Board says it has created a new employee class, as a result, called the Probation and Parole Specialist. They will have a bachelor’s degree and the same on-the-job training as parole officers. They will not be APOST certified.

The report cites the thousands of inmates that go on to live productive lives after prison, and those who fail, calling those instances, “truly awful.”

“This agency has fallen short of its own standards in adequately supervision parolees from time to time,” the reports states.

The Board lists eight improvements that will be implemented including supplemental training for parole officers, a caseload study, officers must screen advisory notices daily to ensure offenders haven’t had contact with law enforcement, proposal of salary increases for parole officers and hiring 25 additional probation and parole specialists.

Ivey and Attorney General Steve Marshall must approve the plan and the Board will begin implementing the plan by or before Nov 29.

Finally, 30 days after the Board begins implementing the corrective action plan, it must certify to the governor whether it has fully complied.

Following the plan’s submission, Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey reacted:

“I am in the process of reviewing the corrective action plan submitted by the Board of Pardons and Paroles today. I will look to determine if the corrective action plan is comprehensive enough to protect our citizens and prevent the reckless actions taken by this Board over the last several months. Regardless of this plan and its contents, one thing is for sure; I will be closely watching this Board to ensure that they are following policies and procedures and not continuing to disregard public safety by releasing violent inmates who have served little or no time back into our communities. If I determine that this is happening I promise that they will be subject to quick and swift action by a Montgomery County Grand Jury. They cannot and will not continue to put us at risk by their careless conduct.”

Copyright 2018 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.