Connect with us

Crime

Bureau of Pardons and Paroles increases hearings

Eddie Burkhalter

Published

on

After months of a reduction in parole hearings for Alabama’s incarcerated, the state Bureau of Pardons and Paroles is ramping up the numbers of those hearings. 

In a response to ARP’s questions Monday about how those hearings are set, Bureau spokesman Terry Abbott said that the agency has a target goal of 540 hearings during the month of March. 

That goal is much higher than the 150 hearings that were scheduled for January 2020, and nearly 200 more than the 343 hearings scheduled for February. 

The increase in parole hearings comes after Bureau director Charlie Graddick received pressure recently from state legislators and outside groups concerned over the slowdown in those hearings, but Abbott in a message to APR on Tuesday said that pressure was not the cause of the increase. 

“The increase in hearings was not the result of legislative or ACLU criticism. Under the law, cases have to be docketed 45 days before the hearings, so information on the number of hearings and which inmates will have their cases heard is published on our website 45 days in advance,” Abbott’s message reads. “The number of hearings has been increasing steadily. All the hearings docketed for February were scheduled in January or before, long before the recent criticism from the Legislature and the ACLU.”

At a budget presentation on Jan. 23 Graddick was grilled by lawmakers on the bureau’s decline in paroles. Asked how many paroles had been granted since he became director, Graddick said that he was unsure, and that parole decisions are made by the board, not by him. 

“The parole board follows the law and then the three of them make their judgment as to whether or not they’re going to be a risk to the community. And I guess we’ve just got too many violent people in jail,” Graddick said during the meeting, according to Al.com’s Mike Cason. 

Cason also reported that Graddick spoke with reporters after the meeting about why he thinks fewer people were being paroled. 

Advertisement

“I had a man who’s been in this business a long time tell me about a month ago that they’ve taken all of the low-hanging fruit out of the prisons,” Graddick said, according to AL.com. “That means that we don’t have people there anymore that really qualify. They just don’t.”

The ACLU of Alabama recently made two records requests to the bureau to find out why so many fewer incarcerated people were getting hearings, asking which policies and procedures were being used to schedule those hearings. 

Beth Shelburne, and investigative reporter for ACLU of Alabama’s Campaign for Smart Justice, in a statement expressed concern that the requests weren’t being responded to with proper responses.

“We’ve asked to see the specific policy or procedure that guides the scheduling of parole hearings. We’ve also asked to interview any supervisor within the agency who can walk us through the process, but I was told today that my interview request would not be granted,” Shelburne said in the statement. “We’ve submitted a new request, renewing our commitment to hold this state agency accountable. The Governor and the Bureau of Pardons and Paroles must follow through on transparency and answer our questions about this important policy.”

Graddick, through spokesman Terry Abbott, declined APR’s interview request Monday. 

Judge Graddick hasn’t been doing one-on-one interviews because he is focused on directing the ongoing improvements in the agency,” Abbott wrote to APR

Graddick was appointed director on Sept. 1, 2019, by Gov. Kay Ivey, and quickly suspended all parole hearings, saying that the victim notice process wasn’t being followed properly. 

When hearings resumed in November, the number of people getting them dropped dramatically. Just 17 people were granted parole during November and December 2019, according to ACLU of Alabama’s report. Ninety-two percent of eligible parolees were not granted release during those months. 

Abbott in a message to APR on Monday said that the Bureau’s Board Operations Division is tasked with setting incarcerated people for hearings. 

“Preparation specifically includes a face to face interview and risk assessment of the inmate by an Institutional Parole Officer. Completed files with all compiled records/reports that have been located are transferred onto dockets based on which cases have been completely worked at the time a docket is set,” Abbott wrote in his response. 

“The board’s current practice is to hear cases on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays of each week. Hearing notices for officials and victims are simultaneously prepared and sent as required by law when dockets are set,” Abbott said. “The overall process thus consists generally of a target number of eligible cases coming before the board in sequential order grouped by inmate eligibility date but with some variation due to delays most often caused by location complications encountered for victim cases.” 

Abbott described a process in which all the work to prepare a case is done first, then the cases are set on dockets to be heard by the board.

Lyn Head, former Tuscaloosa County district attorney who resigned as chair of the Board of Pardons and Paroles in September 2019, told APR by phone on Monday that it was her understanding that during her time on the board and before, the cases that were eligible for a hearing were docketed, and “that they were prepared and gotten ready based on their settings on the docket.”

“Because the time-consuming thing between the setting and the case and the hearing of the case is notices,” Head said, referring to notices to victims, family members and parties required by law to be notified of an upcoming parole hearing. “Those statutory notices have to be taken care of.”

Head said that those notices were going out as required by law when she was on the board.

“My prayer is that this will be resolved, because there are 25,000 people – and I use the word people very carefully. I’m talking about people who are incarcerated – who’ve got to feel desperate and hopeless at this point,” Head said. “They’ve been doing all the right things and their cases aren’t even coming up in a timely manner.”

The reduction in paroles came after the U.S. Department of Justice in April released a report that found there was reason to believe Alabama was violating prisoners’ Constitutional rights to protection from physical violence and sexual assault by housing them in overcrowded, understaffed and unsafe facilities. 

At least 14 incarcerated men died by homicide in Alabama in 2019, which was more than twice as many as were killed during the entire ten-year period between 1999 and 2009. Alabama’s prison homicide rate is almost nine times the national average for state prisons, according to U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. 

At least 28 people died as a result from either homicide, drug overdose or suicide in state prisons in 2019. 

State lawmakers passed sentencing reforms in 2013 and 2015, which resulted in a decrease of inmate population from about 200 percent of capacity to around 160 percent. 

Between 2013 and 2018 Alabama’s prison population dropped from 26,293 to 20,618 but the reductions changed course in 2019. 

ADOC data that shows that in April 2019 the state’s in-custody prison population was greater than the previous year by almost 300 inmates, which was the first time that’s happened since February 2013. In June, the ADOC recorded 639 more inmates than the state held in custody the previous June.

Graddick in an op-ed published by APR on Dec. 4, 2019, said the bureau isn’t responsible for alleviating prison overcrowding. 

“It is not the Board’s duty, role, or responsibility by law or otherwise, nor the Director’s, to alleviate prison overcrowding,” Graddick wrote. 

Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said during the budget hearing on Jan. 23 that the state was under threat of a federal takeover of its prison system if fixes aren’t made. 

Ward also decried the bureau’s practice of publicly releasing information on a potential parolee’s past crimes, something that began after Graddick’s appointment. 

“The Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles will hold 34 parole hearings this week, including hearings for 22 violent offenders, among them 6 murderers, 1 sex offender, 2 convicted of attempted murder, 1 for manslaughter and 5 for robbery #crime #safety #victims,” the Bureau tweeted on Monday. 

Over 11 tweets on Feb. 23 the agency commented on those turned down for parole that day, noting each person’s criminal history and using hashtags including #crimes, #prison, #drugs and #victims. 

Head said that there are “tens of thousands” of stories about formerly incarcerated people who are living productive lives outside of prison.

“At the beginning of 2019 there were 69,000 people who were being supervised by the agency,” Head said. “And those people were being successfully supervised…We don’t hear about those.”

“I think that pressure is the only thing that’s going to make this right,” Head said, referring to those lawmakers pointed questions to Graddick at last week’s budget presentation. “Because it doesn’t appear as though anybody is thinking about those people as people.”

Advertisement

Crime

More confirmed COVID-19 cases among state inmates, prison staff

Eddie Burkhalter

Published

on

Two more inmates in Alabama prisons have tested positive for COVID-19, while confirmed cases among prison staff continue to outpace cases among inmates. Four additional workers have also tested positive, bringing the total to 55. 

The Alabama Department of Corrections in a press release Wednesday evening announced that two inmates who had been housed at the infirmary at the Kilby Correctional Facility have tested positive for the virus. Those men, who were being treated for preexisting medical conditions, have been taken to a local hospital for treatment of COVID-19, according to the release. 

The infirmary at Kilby prison has been placed on level-one quarantine, meaning inmates there are to be monitored for symptoms of coronavirus and have their temperatures checked twice daily, according to ADOC. 

Two more workers at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women self-reported positive test results for COVID-19, bringing the total of confirmed cases among staff at the facility to nine. 

One employee at the Bullock Correctional Facility also tested positive for COVID-19, according to the press release, becoming the third worker at the prison with a confirmed case. An inmate at the prison had also previously tested positive for coronavirus. 

One worker at the Hamilton Aged and Infirmed facility, which cares for older and sick inmates at most risk from serious complications and death from coronavirus, has also tested positive for COVID-19. 

ADOC on May 6 announced that an inmate at Hamilton Aged and Infirmed tested positive for the virus. A worker at the facility told APR earlier this month that staff there was concerned that the virus may have entered the facility after a correctional officer was ordered to sit with an inmate from another facility at a hospital, where the man later tested positive for COVID-19 and died the following day. 

Advertisement

That man, 66-year-old Dave Thomas, tested positive for COVID-19 on May 6, according to the ADOC, and died within 24 hours of receiving the test results.

Despite the inmate’s confirmed COVID-19 test results, the correctional officer was ordered to return to work at the Hamilton Aged and Infirmed facility without self-quarantining or being tested for the virus, the worker told APR

An ADOC spokeswoman told APR that all correctional officers who had contact with the deceased inmate all received tests for COVID-19 and reported negative results. The worker says that’s untrue, and that the officer hasn’t been tested. 

ADOC does not test staff for COVID-19 but requests that those who test positive self-report to the department. ADOC has said that inmates are only tested if they’re exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 and only at the recommendation of a physician. 

As of Wednesday, 11 inmates in state prisons have tested positive for COVID-19, and just two cases remain active, according to ADOC. 

As of Tuesday, 152 of approximately 22,000 state inmates had been tested for the virus, according to the department. 

It was unclear Wednesday whether ADOC plans to begin testing inmates who may not be exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19. 

Attempts to reach an ADOC spokeswoman Wednesday evening weren’t immediately successful. 

Some state prison systems have begun testing all inmates, and the results of those tests have shown the virus had spread in many facilities among inmates who showed no symptoms. 

The Michigan Department of Corrections tested all 38,130 state prisoners over a 15-day span and found that 3,263 of them tested positive, according to MLive

“The vast majority of the prisoners we found who tested positive had no symptoms and were making it more challenging to control the spread of this illness.” Heidi Washington, Michigan Department of Corrections director, said in a written statement, according to MLive.

Continue Reading

Crime

Confirmed COVID-19 cases among Alabama prison workers reaches 51

Eddie Burkhalter

Published

on

The number of prison workers in Alabama who’ve tested positive for coronavirus ticked up to 51 on Tuesday.

The Alabama Department of Corrections said just a single inmate has an active case of the virus. 

The Alabama Department of Corrections in a press release Tuesday said three more workers at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women self-reported positive test results for COVID-19, bringing the total confirmed cases among staff in that facility to seven. 

There were also two additional confirmed cases among workers at the Frank Lee Community Based Facility and Community Work Center, ADOC said in the press release, bringing the total of infected staff there to eight. 

One worker at the Kilby Correctional Facility, one at the Bullock Correctional Facility and another at the Ventress Correctional Facility also tested positive for COVID-19.

Kilby prison has had four confirmed cases among staff, Bullock prison two and at Ventress prison there have been 11 workers to self-report positive test results. 

While the number of confirmed cases among staff have continued to rise in recent weeks, cases among inmates have not.

Advertisement

Of the nine inmates in seven state facilities who’ve tested positive, just one had an active case as of Tuesday, according to ADOC. 

Of the approximately 22,000 state inmates, 143 had been tested for coronavirus as of May 22, the last day ADOC has updated testing numbers. 

ADOC’s announcement Tuesday of more cases among staff comes after Alabama saw its largest single-day increase on COVID-19 cases on Monday when 646 new cases were confirmed. 

ADOC halted visitation and volunteer entries at state facilities on March 19 to help prevent outbreaks in the state’s dangerously overcrowded facilities, but the department is working on a plan to resume “some facility operations thoughtfully, including visitation and volunteer entry, but has not yet established a definitive timeline,” according to the release. 

“Once established, the Department’s intent is to keep the public apprised of our anticipated plans and timeline to resume these activities safely in a manner that minimizes the risk of exposure to the virus,” the statement reads. “A primary goal and concern of the ADOC is protecting the safety, security, and well-being of our inmates, staff, and the public during these unprecedented times. We continue to monitor COVID-19’s evolving impact closely on our correctional system, the state, and the country while we assess and analyze additional data in order to make informed and strategic operational decisions.”

Continue Reading

Crime

Alabama prisons releasing some inmates early amid COVID-19 outbreak

Eddie Burkhalter

Published

on

Updated at 12 p.m. to include responses from the Alabama Department of Corrections.

The Alabama Department of Corrections has automated the process of releasing early some inmates convicted of nonviolent offenses and who are nearing the end of their sentences, according to a department document obtained by APR

ADOC’s decision to automate the process by which inmates are mandatorily released early comes after 40 prison workers have tested positive for the virus as of Thursday. 

Advocates have for months asked that the state begin releasing inmates as the COVID-19 outbreak continued to spread, threatening the lives of those living and working inside Alabama’s overcrowded prisons. 

In a response to APR on Friday, an ADOC spokeswoman said that the announcement in the letter is in no way related to COVID-19, and is simply the automation of early release dates for inmates, which was before done by hand-calculation and made possible by a state law passed in 2015.

Confirmed cases among inmates in Alabama prisons have remained remarkably low — just nine of approximately 22,000 have tested positive for the virus — but so has testing among inmates. Just 135 inmates, or about 0.6 percent of the inmate population, have been tested, according to ADOC. 

Steve Watson, associate commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections Plans and Programs, in a letter to staff and inmates on Wednesday describes the “mandatory release Automation” program that the letter states went into effect Tuesday. 

According to the letter, inmates convicted of sex offenses against a child under 12, an inmate serving a life sentence or those serving a sentence pursuant to Alabama code 15-18-8, which is the Alabama Split Sentence Act and includes offenses considered by state law as violent crimes, aren’t eligible for early release.

Advertisement

Only those convicted of offenses committed on or after Jan. 30, 2016, may be released, according to the letter. 

Those released early are to be placed on supervised probation by the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles and remain under probation until the end of their sentences, according to the document. 

“To ensure intent of the statute is carried out in the interest of public safety, no inmate will be released until ABPP has communicated to Central Records Division that the home plan/supervision is approved, and that victim notification has been made consistent with the Mandatory Release statute,” Watson said in the letter. 

Terry Abbott, spokesman for the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles, in a message to APR on Friday said that the bureau will work with ADOC to “facilitate the transition of mandatorily released inmates to ensure maximum public safety.”

“The automation of the mandatory release process by ADOC is a positive development overall,” Abbott said.

State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, told APR on Friday that by releasing inmates shortly before the end of their sentences and by providing supervision after release, studies show they’re less likely to re-offend. Ward also said that the state Legislature is going to have to provide the state Bureau of Pardons and Paroles with the resources and parole officers needed to provide that supervision, however.

“They still have money left over that we appropriated in 2016, 2017 and 2018 that they haven’t used yet,” Ward said of the bureau. “They have money there. It’s just a slow process hiring these folks too.”

Ward said Alabama law allows early release of inmates in only a couple instances, one of which is the early release under the 2015 statute, and the other is by way of medical furloughs.

“I don’t think it’s been used very much, mainly because it’s such a stringent statute,” Ward said of medical furlough releases.

ADOC spokeswoman Samantha Rose in a message to APR Friday said that the latest action is “not a new directive to release inmates, nor is it in any way related to COVID-19 or recommendations from the DOJ.”

“This memo simply informs ADOC staff that an existing time-computation process used to determine mandatory release dates (an output of SB67), which previously have been calculated by hand, has now been automated. The ADOC has been working to automate this formerly manual and time-consuming process for some time now,” Rose said.

Ward said it seems clear that ADOC is aware of the need to release some inmates amid the COVID-19 crisis.

“They know what the circumstances are like inside there, whether it warrants it or not,” Ward said. “And I think they have expressed concern about COVID-19 and the impact it could have with overcrowding.”

Ward said the decision to release some inmates could only help with the state’s discussion with the U.S. Department of Justice regarding the federal agency’s concerns about overcrowding, high homicide rates and sexual assaults. 

“But I think the staff over there would look at this through the lens of public safety,” Ward said of ADOC’s decision-making process.

Abbott in a followup message to APR on Friday said that this isn’t the first time inmates have been released on mandatory releases, however, and that the bureau is currently supervising 294 former inmates who were released on mandatory release. To date, the bureau has supervised 430 inmates released mandatorily through the legislation approved in 2015. Of the 294 the bureau is currently supervising, 114 are considered violent offenders. (Updated at 1:38 p.m. to include additional comments from Abbott) 

ADOC on Thursday announced that two staff members at the Ventress Correctional Facility, one at the Easterling Correctional Facility and another at the Frank Lee Community Based Facility and Community Work Center all self-reported as positive for coronavirus. 

While the number of prison staff testing positive for the virus has continued to rise in recent weeks, confirmed cases among inmates hasn’t yet broken into double digits. 

As of Thursday, all nine inmates who had tested positive for COVID-19 have all since recovered, according to ADOC. 

Colony Wilson, 41, who was serving at the Birmingham Women’s Community Based Facility and Community Work Center, died on May 11 after inmates at the facility told APR through letters and interviews with family members that Wilson had complained of shortness of breath, a symptom of COVID-19.

Prison staff also failed to promptly give Wilson aid after she collapsed in a stairwell, those inmates said. 

ADOC is investigating the death, and had previously told APR that Wilson hadn’t been tested for coronavirus before her death because she wasn’t exhibiting symptoms. 

ADOC announced on Wednesday that a worker at the Birmingham Women’s Community Based Facility and Community Work Center had tested positive for coronavirus.

Dave Thomas, 66, a terminally ill man serving a life-sentence at St. Clair Correctional Facility died April 16 after having been taken to a local hospital on April 4. He died less than 24 hours after testing positive for COVID-19, ADOC said in a statement at the time.

ADOC has a large population of older inmates, and many with serious medical conditions, which puts them at much greater risk for complications and death from COVID-19 outbreak.

Despite the overcrowding in state prisons and threat to life from COVID-19, the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles at the start of the outbreak suspended all parole hearings.

The three-member Pardons and Paroles Board on Tuesday held its first hearing since the coronavirus crisis began, and released just two of 22 inmates eligible for parole that day.

Continue Reading

Crime

COVID-19 cases among prison workers reach 36

Eddie Burkhalter

Published

on

Two more prison workers have tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the total of confirmed cases among staff to 36 across 16 state facilities, the Alabama Department of Corrections announced Wednesday. 

A worker at the Camden Community Based Facility and Community Work Center in Camden and an employee at the Birmingham Community Based Facility and Community Work Center have self-reported positive test results, the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) said in a press release Wednesday. 

Four employees self-reported positive tests Tuesday.

ADOC is investigating whether other workers or inmates were exposed to the two employees, according to the release. Of the 36 infected workers, seven have been cleared by doctors to return to work. 

There have been no new COVID-19 cases among inmates since May 9, when ADOC announced the ninth confirmed case among inmates. As of Monday, the latest day ADOC has updated testing numbers to the department’s website, just 135 of the state’s approximately 22,000 inmates had been tested for the virus. 

One woman serving at the Birmingham Community Based Facility and Community Work Center died after other women serving at the center told APR she had complained to staff of breathing problems, which is a symptom of COVID-19. 

Colony Wilson, 41, was declared dead on the morning of May 11 at St. Vincent’s Hospital. Inmates told APR through letters and family members that she had complained the night before she died of having trouble breathing, but that staff failed to intervene before she collapsed in a stairwell, and didn’t provide timely aid to her after the collapse. 

Advertisement

An ADOC spokeswoman told APR last week said Wilson wasn’t tested for the virus before she died, and it’s unclear if she was tested after death. ADOC said the death is under investigation and declined further comment. 

Last week, ADOC began installing infrared cameras in all of the state’s facilities that can detect if a person entering or exiting has a temperature over 100 degrees, according to the press release. The technology will add a layer of screening and reduce contact between people caused by staff having to take temperature readings one-on-one, according to ADOC.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Authors

Advertisement

The V Podcast

Facebook

Trending

.