Governor, attorney general critical of parole board’s corrective action plan

Governor, attorney general critical of parole board’s corrective action plan
(Source: WSFA 12 News)

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The Governor and Attorney General issued a joint response late Thursday afternoon, weighing in on the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles' Corrective Action Plan.

The governor took unprecedented action in mid-October, issuing a moratorium on the early parole hearings for violent inmates after WSFA exposed the early consideration and release of hundreds of violent offenders.

Gov. Kay Ivey ordered the board to submit a detailed corrective action plan explaining how it plans to strengthen its operations, processes for parole consideration and surveillance of violent offenders.

The response released Thursday was critical of the plan’s lack of specificity, stating the plan left too many unanswered questions as to how the board would make good on its promises. It was also highly critical of the lack of consultation with external stakeholders, specifically the victim community, while drafting their plan.

The bulk of the response questioned why the board failed to specifically address certain areas of management and protocol requested in the executive order.

The governor and attorney general called on the board to overhaul the process, procedures, and standards applicable to all inmates - making early parole consideration is only available in the most extraordinary cases and for the most compelling reasons. It also called on the board to strengthen the requirements for the review committee, which considers whether an inmate should be up for early parole.

The response also ordered the board to work with the State Personnel Department to formulate appropriate self-evaluation tools for the board and senior executive leadership and establish a stakeholder advisory group to meet quarterly to bring feedback, concerns and recommendations to the board.

The board was tasked with addressing four topics: ensuring excellence in executive leadership, cultivating a culture of respect toward victims and law enforcement, ensuring adequate preparation for parole hearings and maintaining supervision of parolees.

The response questioned why the board didn’t address what changes should be made to executive leadership and organizational structure.

The response also addressed the lack of specifics over better preparation for parole hearings, questioning their plan to involve electronic computing for parole edibility to “reduce human error.”

“Why is there uncertainty about the need for an electronic means of calculating parole eligibility,” the response questioned. “…To what extent has human error been a challenge for the Board in calculating Parole eligibility dates? And assuming the board opts to procure and electronic system, how will it minimize the potential for human error before that procurement is complete?”

With regard to the early parole consideration process, the governor and attorney general also questioned whether they could be confident the agency employees would appropriately apply the board’s criteria governing early consideration.

The response applauded the board’s proposal to change the rules governing the early release of violent inmates, which would disqualify those convicted of a Class A Felony involving serious physical injury, sex offenders with victims 12 years or younger, or those convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to more than 15 years.

However it also questioned whether it could lead to unintended consequences, citing an offender with a string of violent Class B Felonies, or a model inmate with a Class A Felony conviction with whom the victim requested their early release.

The lack of information regarding the notifying law enforcement of a parolee who has absconded or violates parole was also cited in the response. This is a key issue regarding the release of Jimmy O’Neal Spencer, who is now accused of murdering three people in North Alabama after absconding.

The board must submit a substantial-compliance certification in 30 days, to update the governor and attorney general on their progress. The officials also asked for responses in writing immediately addressing the questions in the response.

“How you respond-both in word and in deed-will undoubtedly determine the next steps we take as a State in this vital area," the response concluded.

WSFA 12 News asked the governor’s office what those following steps could be, however the governor had no further comment.

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