VOCAL Calls for Reforms to the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles

MONTGOMERY — Victims of Crime and Leniency (VOCAL), the State’s largest victims’ advocacy coalition, on Tuesday expressed the organization’s full support and the urgent need for legislation reforming the Board of Pardons and Paroles. The legislation has already passed the Alabama House of Representatives.

“We sincerely hope that the Alabama Senate will make this legislation a top priority in the remaining days of the regular session,” said VOCAL Founder Miriam Shehane. “Victims have waited for years for our state officials to listen to us and pay attention to what is going on at Pardons and Paroles. We’ve finally got an Attorney General and Governor who get it, but they lack the authority to fix this problem. For any real change to occur, we desperately need the reforms proposed in this legislation.”

In July, Jimmy O’Neal Spencer murdered three innocent individuals in Guntersville after being wrongfully paroled and improperly supervised. After discovering numerous instances of improper early parole considerations and the subsequent release of violent offenders, as well as significant operational and managerial problems within the agency, Governor Kay Ivey and Attorney General Steve Marshall decided that they had heard enough. For months, they tried to work with the Board to correct its own problems, but unsatisfactory responsive actions from the agency led the Attorney General to pursue legislative changes that would 1) restructure the agency, 2) formalize the Board’s early consideration policies, and 3) enhance the Board’s obligations in notifying victims.

“We keep being told that this bill will be put to a vote, but time is running out,” said VOCAL State Director, Janette Grathum. “We urge Senators to do their research so that they fully grasp what is at stake here—the safety of all Alabamians. To know, at the very least, what happened to the three victims in Guntersville, and to do nothing, would be indefensible. We ask Senators to please listen to those of us who have to deal with this broken system up close, every single day. Please listen to the District Attorneys. Please listen to our Governor. Please listen to our Attorney General. There are massive problems that must be addressed now, not later. Surely we haven’t come this far just to see these necessary reforms die for no apparent reason.”

The House version of the legislation, HB 380, is sponsored by Representative Connie Rowe (R-Jasper). It passed the House by a vote of 73 to 27 on May 9th. The Senate version, SB 42, is sponsored by Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster). It was reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 11th and awaits consideration by the full Senate.

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