According to reports from the Alabama Bureau of Pardons & Paroles (ABPP), state officials in Alabama denied parole to 90% of eligible inmates in the past fiscal year.
The ABPP provides services to the Alabama Parole Board but remains a separate entity. It also oversees everyone on parole and probation in Alabama, currently around 44,000 people.
In FY2022, the ABPP rejected 3,593 of the 4,002 prisoners who had passed parole hearings. The 2022 financial year ran from October 2021 to September 2022.
The state’s parole denial rate has steadily increased since 2019, when state officials denied parole to 69% of prisoners who attended a parole hearing. In FY2020, the ABPP rejected 80% and in FY2021 85%.
Only 30% of parole board decisions were consistent with the parole guidelines passed in July 2020. However, the ABPP warned that the guidelines have not yet been validated due to a lack of data. Therefore, “the guidelines do not indicate a person’s likelihood of succeeding if paroled.”
If strictly followed, the guidelines would have resulted in 81% of prisoners who went through parole hearings being granted parole.
A large majority of prisoners undergoing parole hearings were male. However, a smaller percentage of women were rejected. Only 70% of women were rejected while 92% of men were rejected.
Most paroleees were nonviolent criminals, but 33% committed violent crimes.
One of the inmates eligible for parole was found to have “unacceptable compliance” with required programs. Four others who were admitted “did not make reasonable efforts” to comply.
ABPP Executive Director Cam Ward told 1819 News that the data could be misleading. There are other factors contributing to the decline in parole rates, such as the percentage of prison inmates who are violent criminals and legislative changes that make it difficult to compare pre-2019 and post-2019 numbers.
“Any time you try to look up a criminal justice chart on a chart, it doesn’t work,” Ward said. “It’s not necessarily as insightful as it should be.”
Ward said that about 10 years ago only about 60% of criminals were violent. The rest were in prison for nonviolent crimes. That number changed when the state began “dealing” with nonviolent offenders around 2014.
According to Ward, more than 80% of the state’s inmate population is now violent offenders, who are less likely to receive parole for obvious reasons.
In addition, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed legislation changing the parole process after officials accused Jimmy O’Neal Spencer, a parolee inmate, of killing three people. Among them was a seven-year-old and his grandmother.
Under the law, inmates convicted of certain violent crimes are not eligible for parole until they have served 85% of their sentence or 15 years, whichever is lower. The law also requires that a member of the parole board must be a corrections officer. The law came into force in September 2019.
“I won’t go into whether or not [the parole board’s] Choices are right or wrong,” Ward said. “That is at the discretion of the board of directors. However, I think that if you just use spreadsheet data analysis, it’s apples and oranges.
In a statement emailed to 1819 News, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall took a harder line.
“By law, the board’s primary duty is to ensure public safety, not to appease the anti-incarceration community,” Marshall wrote. “Alabama’s inmate population is over 80% violent, and current probation rates rightly reflect that reality.”
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