Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Opinion | Alabama must reform its parole-granting process

CW File

In 2013, the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles granted parole to 34% of incarcerated individuals who were considered. In the more than 10 years since, that number has fluctuated significantly, rising and falling, but eventually settling around 8%. So how did we get here?

Between 2013 and 2018, the granted parole numbers reported by the ABPP rose from 34% to 53%. That 19 percentage point increase was accompanied by a rise in the number of prisoners who were considered for parole.

For years, Alabama has attempted to tackle its prison overcrowding crisis by tweaking and improving the system used to grant parole. In 2018, only 7% of parolees had their privileges revoked for technical violations of new offenses. The rehabilitation standards were working.

Until 2019, when Gov. Kay Ivey appointed Leigh Gwathney to step into the role of chair of the ABPP. The month before Gwathney’s term began, September 2019, marked the beginning of legislation that would upend the entire parole- and pardon-granting system.

Attorney General Steve Marshall promoted House Bill 380 in hopes of improving public safety and assisting in keeping violent offenders behind bars. The only obvious result of HB 380 was awarding more power over the board of parole and pardons to Ivey. 

Now, instead of an independent commission, nominations for the three positions on the ABPP will come exclusively from the lieutenant governor, speaker of the Alabama State House, and president pro tempore of the state Senate.

The guidelines the ABPP had previously been subjected to were made just suggestions. According to Alabama Code Section 15-22-26, the decision is now solely left up to the opinion of the board. 

While this bill created strict rules that must be met to grant parole to an inmate, Alabama still has particular standards for who could potentially receive parole, based on time served, behaviors while incarcerated and rehabilitation programs completed. Gwathney has chosen time and time again to ignore the guidelines set right in front of her since her time on the ABPP began. 

For a couple legislative sessions, state Rep. Chris England of Tuscaloosa has been working to aid this system in some way.  

England has been pushing for a temporary oversight board to hold the self-contained and almighty ABPP accountable. Under England’s plan, the Criminal Justice Policy Development Council would oversee the parole process, require the ABPP to utilize its guidelines, and provide reasoning for denying inmates parole. 

The bill would also establish an appeal process for inmates whose parole was wrongfully denied as a result of deviations from the guideline.

No one is trying to remove any power from the ABPP’s gavels and rulings, just monitor and question the motions they make in delivering their version of justice. In the long run, England’s bill is meant to help reform the prison system, not just take control from the ABPP. 

The council also aims to create an Alabama-specific risk-and-needs assessment for our felony offender population by 2026 and update the inmate classification system in order to help things continue down the path they started in 2013. 

The 2024 legislative session begins Feb. 6, and there are hopes we could see the first steps toward a better-monitored and -executed judicial system, where everyone follows their guidelines and considers what life looks like outside of the courtroom. 

The ABPP’s 2023 annual report boasted Alabama’s involvement with Reentry 2030, a program designed to help increase the success of reentry for those who are incarcerated and decrease recidivism by 50%. Reentry 2030 also helps give people who have been incarcerated the tools to start over and reconnect with their communities.

The only issue? Nobody’s giving them the chance to get out and adjust in the first place. 

After decades in prison, after their sentences have been completed, Alabama leaves its previously incarcerated citizens to their own devices. Again and again, this has proven the least effective solution for reentry into society. 

Granting parole and then supervising people in daily life to help them acclimate and become better citizens is the best way to ensure fewer repeat offenders. With the right guidelines in place and more pressure to follow them, Alabama can improve one aspect of its deeply flawed prison system.

More to Discover