Lawmakers approve parole board overhaul

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama legislators have approved an overhaul of the state parole board that would give the governor more control over the board.

The Alabama Senate on Thursday voted 25-5 for the bill that now goes to Gov. Kay Ivey. Ivey said she would sign it once it reached her desk.

"The justice system should not fail the people of our state again, like it did in the Jimmy O’Neal Spencer case last year," Ivey said in a statement.

Supporters say the recent paroles of some violent offenders, including Spencer, who was later accused of killing three people, show the need for change.

Tommy James, the attorney who represents the families of Guntersville murder victims Martha Reliford, Marie Martin and Colton Lee, released a statement Thursday afternoon saying the bill was critical to keeping dangerous criminals in prison.

“It was critical for this bill to pass to prevent more dangerous criminals from being released from prison and to hopefully help prevent tragedies such as those that occurred in Guntersville with Jimmy Spencer’s three innocent victims,” said James.

Spencer is charged with multiple counts of capital murder. His trial date has not been set.

Alabama Attorney Gen. Steve Marshall, who personally knew two of Spencer's alleged victims, also hailed the bill's passage.

"“Today, the Alabama Legislature passed legislation that will reform our state’s badly broken system of pardons and paroles," Marshall said in a news release. "But this was about far more than fixing a failing agency; this was about securing public safety. We will now be able to better protect the people of our great state.”

Opponents say the bill would politicize the parole process and not address the problems that have occurred.

Under the bill, the governor would also gain the authority to appoint the parole board director. The bill would also establish sentence minimums inmates must serve before becoming eligible for parole. It would also give the governor and attorney general the ability to veto early paroles that deviate from that schedule if they believe the board violated guidelines.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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