MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Thursday afternoon the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles said it is working to restart pardon and parole hearings. This comes after the bureau cancelled hearings in March through mid-April due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A total of 172 hearings were put on hold as a result.
Judge Charlie Graddick, Director of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles, issued a statement regarding discussions between the governor and the bureau at this time:
We are in continuing discussions with the Governor’s Office in an effort to restart pardon and parole hearings as safely and efficiently as possible during this very difficult time for the people of Alabama. The Bureau hopes to announce a plan and timetable soon. The resumption of hearings is a complex issue given the national health emergency, stringent laws governing the Board’s hearing process, including a thirty-day notice requirement to crime victims and officials, and the legal requirements providing crime victims and other stakeholders the opportunity for meaningful in person participation.
District 70 State Representative Chris England said resuming the hearings is just the right thing to do during this time.
“The prisons are overcrowded, dangerous, and it is impossible for someone who’s incarcerated to practice all of the things that we say are necessary in order to stop the spread,” England said.
England is calling for the bureau to resume hearings to lower the chances of inmates transmitting COVID-19 within state prisons.
“We have offenders that are incarcerated that are extremely ill and as we’ve seen across the country, across the world actually,” he said. “People who have some of those underlying health conditions, when they get sick the coronavirus, generally, is a death sentence.”
England said especially amid a crisis like this, offenders who are up for parole should get their chance for release and take pressure off the overcrowded prison system.
“It doesn’t really make sense at this point for us to continue to incarcerate them when they could be better served outside of the facility, possibly be eligible for Medicaid and, ultimately, safer,” England added.
Tuesday, England said he was told state law prohibited the Bureau of Pardons and Paroles from having virtual hearings.
WHNT News 19 received a statement from Governor Ivey’s office saying that during the pandemic, in order to keep the criminal justice system functioning, virtual hearings are an option:
Governor Ivey recognizes the importance of keeping Alabama’s criminal justice system functioning for the good of public safety. She has included within her State of Emergency proclamations for government entities to utilize virtual meetings to ensure efficiency and allow for the continuity of critical government services.
England said the board has hesitated long enough.
“Unfortunately, we have wasted a few weeks, which could potentially unnecessarily cost us lives,” he said. “So I hope that review that they’re undergoing isn’t a review to determine whether or not they’re going to do it, but a review to determine how they are going to do it.”
In 2019, the Department of Justice said Alabama’s prisons violated the 8th Amendment: Protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
State Representative England said Alabama has to address those problems and the state can’t move forward by leaving parole-eligible inmates in prison without a hearing.