Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles submits corrective action plan on eve of deadline

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles sent its corrective action plan to Governor Kay Ivey and Attorney General Steve Marshall today. This is in response to the governor’s mandate and suspension of early parole process for Alabama inmates on October 15.

Governor Ivey and Marshall met with the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles 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.

Spencer’s attorney, Tommy James responded to the board’s corrective action plan stating:

“The corrective action plan is hopefully a start in the right direction. However, many issues that led to the wrongful parole and improper supervision of Jimmy Spencer simply were not addressed. The plan emphasized that the Board’s employees are required to follow the policies that are already in place. Those same policies were not followed prior to and after Jimmy Spencer’s parole leading to the murders of my clients’ loved ones, including an innocent seven-year-old boy. It is time for the State to take responsibility for these deaths so that these families can achieve the justice they seek. What stands out in the plan is that Board employees are now going to receive training on ‘how to treat victims’ with ‘respect and compassion.’ It is disturbing that employees in these important positions have to be trained to do the right thing, to treat victims with compassion and respect. Respect, compassion, and sympathy have obviously been lacking and that has been devastating to victims across the State.”

The board calls the first part of the action plan, ‘ensuring excellence in executive leadership:’

This includes leaning on the executive leadership which includes Executive Director Eddie Cook, his assistant executive directors, the agency’s personnel director, technology director, accounting director and associate general counsel.

This team is now tasked with examining the operations of the board of pardons and paroles to evaluate concerns and areas of improvement. The next executive leadership meeting is November 28.

The plan also states the members of this team will engage in continuing education as it relates to pardons and paroles leadership.

The second part of the plan is called ‘cultivating a culture of respect toward victims and law enforcement:’

This part of the board’s plan includes fostering a culture of respect for victims and law enforcement. This focuses on notifying them when a parole or pardon hearing is scheduled. The board also said they will set standards for victim location and notification, depending on the ‘severity’ of case.

Under this part of the plan, the board laid out seven actions they will implement over the next 30 days:

  • The Victims’ Services Unit staff will receive training to help with interacting with victims
  • A committee to train central staff to professionally handle telephone and email communications from victims
  • Ensure they pass victims’ questions to senior supervisors, if necessary
  • Add an additional supervisor to review parole cases involving a victim, prior to parole, to ensure the inmate is eligible
  • IT staff will plan for updating the agency’s website
  • The Victims’ Services Unit staff will train on policies involving location and notification
  • Probation officers across the state will begin meeting regularly with judges, law enforcement and district attorneys to discuss public safety issues

The third part of the plan is referred to as ‘ensuring adequate preparation for parole hearings:’

This portion of the plan deals with the inmate’s entire file.  The board reviews this before they make a decision to parole.

There are four actions in this portion the board plans to implement:

  • The agency will provide training to the clerical staff so everyone knows what needs verified before putting a parole hearing on the docket
  • The executive director, along with some staff, will discuss the needs of figuring out parole eligibility, to reduce human error
  • Improve the early parole consideration process
    • Three year maximum on early parole considerations
    • Gather a ‘select review committee’ which will distinguish which cases are appropriate for early consideration
    • Division director reviews cases requiring victim notification
    • Inmates convicted of Class A felonies involving serious physical injury to a victim will not be eligible for select review process, instead the inmate will have to serve 85% of their sentence or 15 years before they are eligible for parole
    • The review committee will begin using a new checklist to record its reasons for granting or denying early parole consideration
    • Sex offenders in cases with victims under 12 at the time of the crime will not be eligible for the select review process. So, the offender will need to have served at least 15 years or 85% of their sentence, whichever is less
    • Inmates convicted of manslaughter and given a sentence of more than 15 years will not be eligible for select review. They must serve 15 years or 85% of their sentence
  • Institutional parole officers must have a minimum of five years of experience as a probation and parole officer

The final part of the submitted plan is called ‘maintaining supervision of parolees:’

The board admits in the plan they are having trouble maintaining enough parole officers. The board said they are dealing with increasing caseloads, and are trying to reduce the officer to offender ration to 75-1. They said the current ratio is 165-1.

The agency is creating a new employee group called ‘Probation and Parole Specialists.’ The only difference between parole officers and the people who will fill these positions, the board said, is the specialist will not be certified by the state’s peace officers’ standards training (APOST).

The board identified these eight actions they will begin doing over the next 30 days:

  • Parole officers will begin receiving training on the Probation and Parole Officer Procedure Manual
  • Disciplinary actions, where appropriate, will be brought if failures to perform supervision requirements are found.
  • A caseload study to determine whether other measures will assist in enhancing offender supervision will begin
  • Parole officers will be required to screen advisory notices daily to ensure that supervised offenders have had no contact with any member of law enforcement.
  • The officer audit process will undergo evaluation for potential improvement through revision.
  • Legislative solutions will be explored — via risk and needs assessments
  • Executive leadership will request a meeting with the State Personnel Department to propose salary increase for officers and supervisors
  • The agency will work to hire 25 additional Probation and Parole specialists, subject to approval by State Personnel Department and the Finance Department

The board is made up of Chairman Lyn Head, member Cliff Walker and member Dwayne Spurlock. Walker was the chairman until Ivey replaced him at the October meeting.