Paul DeMarco: Work release for convicted killer raises more questions about Alabama Department of Corrections

Courtesy of the Trussville Tribune 12/12/2023

By Paul DeMarco

Our Nation has a violent crime problem that continues to spike. Some states have made it even worse with their efforts to defund the police and weaken their criminal justice system. In addition, soft-on-crime prosecutors and judges in some jurisdictions have created a revolving door allowing repeat felons to remain on the streets.

Paul DeMarco

Yet, considering Alabama is generally a conservative state, most of our citizens would not think we would have those issues here. Unfortunately, it has become evident that the Alabama Legislature must rein in the discretion given to the Department of Corrections due to some reckless decision-making when it comes to work release.

An example is the case of Cindy Kaye Henderson Reese, who was sentenced for the murder of her husband Michael Reese in 2017

At trial, it was determined that she shot her husband in the head and then staged a robbery at their home in Morris, a small town in Jefferson County.

After her conviction, she was sentenced to 40 years in prison. Upon hearing all the evidence in the case, the trial judge set her prison release date for September 2055. However, merely three years later, despite being found guilty of killing her husband, the Alabama DOC decided to transfer Cindy Reese to a work-release program in Birmingham. Protests from the victim’s family resulted in her being sent back to prison.

However, that is not the end of the story. ADOC has again opted to allow Cindy Reese to serve her sentence in a work release program. To make matters worse, the Alabama Department of Corrections has determined she doesn’t “pose a significant risk to self or others and [is] suitable to be assigned off-property work details withoutthe direct supervision of correctional officers.”

Surely, this is not what the public expects of our criminal justice system for those convicted of pre-meditated murder. What is worse is that lawmakers mandated victim notification in these cases.  Volunteer victim advocates pushed for that change, yet here we are now.

This is the second time that this has happened and ADOC owes this family an answer on why they have again transferred Cindy Reese to a work center where she will have “job opportunities in the local community,” according to ADOC’s website. She’s not even eligible for a parole review until 2030, yet ADOC has arbitrarily found her to be suitable to be out in the community.

It should not be too much to expect that someone convicted of murder must be required to spend their sentence behind bars in a state prison. If the Alabama Department of Corrections will not do this, then members of the Alabama House of Representatives and Senate should rein in the discretion given to ADOC and address this problem in the upcoming legislative session on behalf of crime victims and public safety.

Paul DeMarco is a former member of the Alabama House of Representatives and served as Chair of the House Judiciary Committee

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