Governor Ivey signs order to temporarily stop early paroles

MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said she suspended the early parole process for Alabama inmates and replaced the chair of the Alabama Board of Pardons and Parole Monday morning.

Governor Kay Ivey and Attorney General Steve Marshall met with the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles first thing Monday morning to discuss the parole process that allowed Jimmy Spencer out of prison.

Spencer is charged with capital murder for the deaths of three people in Guntersville. The crimes occurred months after he was released from prison and left a Birmingham halfway house.

"We addressed that question with them extensively, and like I say, I was disappointed with the answers that we got," Ivey said. "So I'm putting a moratorium on early parole."

Ivey said she signed an executive order calling for a corrective action plan.

“Today, I have taken decisive action to address the alarming concerns surrounding the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles," said Gov. Ivey in a statement following the meeting.  "First, through Executive Order, I am directing a halt on all early parole hearings, so that the Board’s focus remains entirely on addressing the problems at hand. To shift the direction of Pardons and Paroles, I have also designated new leadership. The Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles’ decisions are crucial to the safety of our state, and the issues here are not to be taken lightly. I directed the Board to produce a detailed, corrective action plan, which they will report back to the Attorney General and myself. It’s clear that things need to change, and I assure the families of victims and all Alabamians that I am working diligently to solve this problem.”

The executive order requires the parole board to cancel early the review committee's parole hearings for inmates whose initial parole consideration date hasn't yet occurred. There are exceptions for medical parole and for inmates who are legally entitled to early parole consideration.

Both Ivey and Marshall said they were disappointed with some of the answers given by the board during the morning meeting. They said it became clear the parole board was not doing what they needed to do to keep violent criminals like Jimmy O'Neal Spencer off the streets.

"Some of this is a result of the Spencer case that we saw, but also it's concerns that we've heard from prosecutors and victims advocates across the state," said Marshall.

Spencer had served decades behind bars for burglary and escape, and even had time tacked on for assaulting an inmate. For an earlier parole consideration, Franklin County's district attorney said in a letter to the parole board that Spencer was dangerous. District Attorney Joey Rushing said he wasn't made aware of Spencer's last parole hearing in November, which led to his early release in January.

Ivey said she did not know who in the parole system had mislabeled Spencer as a nonviolent offender.

"They've got different rules and regulations, and somebody at the lower level made a decision and recommended that it go up the chain, and when the file got to board members, they approved it," Ivey said. "That's just not acceptable."

Marshall, who said he personally knew two of the victims in the Spencer case, also said he has spoken with prosecutors who said they had seen more violent offenders showing up as early release candidates.

"We went through very specific examples with them today from the most recent docket of people that had seven or eight years and were on life sentences for murder and were coming up, and that simply is unacceptable," Marshall said. "And I think the governor made that very clear today."

The board has 30 days to come up with and present their plan of correction to Ivey and Marshall.