MONTGOMERY — Parole hearings resumed in Alabama on Tuesday after a two-month delay, and Board of Pardons and Paroles Director Charlie Graddick stressed Monday that release from prison before a sentence is complete is not due all inmates.
“People think that every inmate has the right to be considered for parole; they have the right to be calculated under a certain formula whether or not to be brought up to be considered for parole, but they’ve got to earn that parole right,” Graddick told reporters.
“We are charged to protect the public in this state from people reoffending,” Graddick, a former judge and Alabama attorney general, said. “We’ve got to look at their risk and that is the board’s responsibility.”
He also said Alabama’s crowded prisons should not play into the board’s decisions.
“They know now that their job isn’t to create space in Alabama prison system. That’s not what they were brought in to do,” Graddick said. “Their job is to determine whether or not a person is considered to be a huge risk to put on the street to offend again.”
Graddick said that while he personally can’t influence any individual parole decision, he hopes the three-member board will use “common sense” when looking at each case.
The board may soon change the way it does risk assessments. During a meeting of the governor’s study group on criminal justice policy last week, Meredith Barnes, the bureau’s general counsel, said it was looking at other ways to do risk-assessment evaluations. Currently, she said, the board uses the Ohio Risk Assessment System, which is widely used to determine an inmate’s level of risk and needed level of supervision after release.
Barnes said the board is looking at different options, especially when it comes to evaluating sex offenders.
“We know for sex offenders there is a widely accepted tool that measures clearly recidivism much more accurately than the (Ohio Risk Assessment System), and we are already taking efforts to add that to our system process,” Barnes said.
There was no expected date given for when a new risk assessment tool would be rolled out.
A violent offense under Alabama statutes can include such crimes as capital murder, assault, kidnapping, rape, domestic violence, burglary, intimidating a witness, child abuse, human trafficking and sexual abuse. A non-violent offense is any crime that isn’t classified as a violent offense.
The parole grant rate for those who committed violent crimes was about 21%, while the rate for non-violent offenses was 46%.
Parole hearings were delayed in September after Graddick said the previous board had done nothing to comply with new victim notification standards that were included in legislation passed earlier this year.
The new law, which allowed Gov. Kay Ivey to appoint Graddick, also put stricter deadlines on when victims could be notified about upcoming parole hearings.
It also allows the governor to select board members from a group of nominees chosen by the speaker of the house, lieutenant governor and senate president pro tem.
The agency came under scrutiny after Jimmy O’Neal Spencer, who was serving a life sentence and then paroled, killed three people in Guntersville in July 2018. That led Ivey to issue a moratorium on early paroles and later the state agreed to a $1 million settlement with the victims’ families.
Ivey spokeswoman Gina Maiola said Graddick has the governor's support.
“He has already made aggressive changes to the operations,” Maiola said. “The governor has full confidence that he will help guide needed reform at the board and see that failures that previously existed do not occur again.”