Lawmakers tackle Alabama parole board challenges, sentence minimums

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Cam Ward

Following concern about the release of violent offenders, a legislative committee advanced a measure Wednesday that would grant Alabama’s governor more control over the state parole board and set sentence minimums for inmates.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 8-3 for Senate Bill 42 by Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster. Ward said the bill takes the parole board’s guidelines on when inmates become eligible for parole and writes them into state law so that they must be followed.

Inmates convicted of murder, rape, and certain other crimes could not be considered for parole before they have served 85 percent of their sentence, or 15 years, whichever is less, according to the legislation. There would be a limited set of circumstances in which parole could be considered earlier and the board would have to notify the attorney general’s office in advance.

The state’s governor would have more control by making the director of the Board of Pardons and Paroles a gubernatorial appointee who could be dismissed at will by the governor. The bill also would require additional procedures for notifying victims about upcoming hearings.

The proposed changes come after the governor and attorney general expressed alarm last year about the release of some offenders.

The parole board did not have an immediate comment on the bill, but was expected to release a statement later.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, a former prosecutor, spoke in favor of the bill. He told the committee that he became concerned after hearing stories of violent offenders getting considered for parole after “six, seven and eight years.”

“This is simply an issue of public safety,” Marshall said.

Marshall noted that a man charged in the 2018 killings of a 7-year-old boy, his great grandmother and another woman in Guntersville had been paroled months earlier.

Last year, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey imposed a 75-day moratorium on early paroles and replaced the parole board chairman. The parole board tightened rules in response to the criticism from Ivey and Marshall.