This summer the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles made headlines for all the wrong reasons after they granted parole back in January to an inmate who was serving a life sentence. Months after being released, parolee Jimmy Spencer, is now accused of killing three people in Guntersville, Ala.
The Parole Board’s decision led many to question their decision-making process as they have the power to override a judge’s decision and grant Alabama prisoners parole as they see fit.
Which is why on Monday, after much public scrutiny and questions, Gov. Kay Ivey took action.
She and Attorney General Steve Marshall met with members of the parole board where she removed Clifford (Cliff) Walker (who former-Gov. Robert Bentley appointed effective Nov. 2013) as Chairman and appointed Lyn Head (who Bentley appointed to the board effective Sept. 2016) to the lead board. Ivey decided to keep Dwayne Spurlock on the board, as she appointed him back in May, saying “he’s only been on duty like four months, so he’s still learning.” Each member of the board were subject to confirmation by the Alabama Senate and are serving a six year term.
Ivey also announced that that she’s signed Executive Order 716, which puts a temporary moratorium on granting early paroles. She’s also asked the board to create and submit and corrective action plan within the next 30 days. Upon its submission, Ivey and Marshall will review and tweak the plan before giving the board a timeline for implementation.
Importance of the Parole Board
More than 20,000 people are locked up in Alabama prisons. According to the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC), state facilities are are at 160 percent of their intended occupancy as they’re collectively designed to hold only only 13,000 prisoners.
While the State Legislature added an additional $85 million for the state prison system over the next two years — to address the prison’s mental health systems, following U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson‘s declaration that the state has failed to provide mental health care to the state’s prison population and is in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment — lawmakers have yet to tackle fully he systemic problem of overcrowding.
Since the passage of the Justice Reinvestment Act (Act 2015-185) in 2015, the board has been tasked with implementing specific reforms targeted at reducing the prison population.
According to the Board’s FY 2017 Annual Report, the Justice Reinvestment Act “requires a clear definition of the parole standard of release and establishment of actuarially based ‘parole guidelines,’ which include reasons for granting and denying parole. Reforms involving the Board’s paroling process achieve greater transparency for the public, crime victims, inmates, and system stakeholders regarding the process, itself, and factors guiding release decisions.”