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Opinion | The underlying problems of Alabama prisons are evident in the Lett case

“A war veteran had his bond revoked because of a paperwork error. The callous handling of it sums up Alabama’s awful corrections system.”

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Common sense and basic decency seem to have won out in the case of Jerry Lett, the war veteran whose parole was set to be revoked on Friday due to a paperwork error. 

Such an ending is a rarity where the Alabama prison system is concerned. 

Montgomery Circuit Court Judge Johnny Hardwick, on Friday, granted Lett a temporary restraining order blocking a warrant for his arrest. There will be a hearing on a motion for a preliminary injunction blocking the warrant on April 12. 

Until that time, at least, Lett will remain out of prison. It is likely that will remain the case. 

A source familiar with Lett’s case and the efforts to keep him out of prison for good told APR on Friday that there are “several options available for Lett’s attorneys that would make for a good argument in front of Judge Hardwick.” The ultimate goal, the source said, was to find some middle ground that satisfied both the requirements of the law and prevented a man who clearly didn’t need to be in prison from going back. 

There’s also the option of proving that the Board of Pardons and Paroles is flat wrong. 

Lett was properly paroled last year, after serving nearly three years in prison. However, in between the time his parole was scheduled and the approval by the Board of Pardons and Paroles, the Alabama Legislature passed a new law upping the minimum sentence requirements. Lett remained nearly two years short under the law change. 

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But the parole board missed that change and granted Lett’s parole. He was discharged from prison six months ago and has been a model parolee since. 

In revoking Lett’s parole, the board maintained that it had no choice. Lett’s attorneys disagree, arguing that the board’s order denied Lett due process and also violates the state and federal ban on punishments after the fact. 

And, of course, the Parole Board didn’t help itself. It first claimed that Lett’s parole was being revoked because reporting requirements weren’t met. Then, two days before the hearing, it decided that the reports had been made, but the parole still violated the new law. 

When Lett’s attorneys demanded to see the reports that were suddenly uncovered, the board’s attorneys refused to provide them. 

Because why not make everyone hate you more? 

So, while being petty and revoking a man’s freedoms based on technicalities that it can’t even substantiate, the board revoked Lett’s parole and wanted to have him sent back to prison on his birthday. 

Solid work, as usual, from the nation’s worst parole board. 

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Because let’s make no mistake about it, Jerry Lett was THE model prisoner from the day he stepped foot inside. 

Inside those walls, Lett was an “upstanding person,” an “outstanding fellow” who was “very respectful,” “highly motivated,” “more than willing to help those less fortunate,” “always doing something productive,” and a “very hard worker.”

Those aren’t my words. They’re the words of the corrections officers who supervised Lett on work details. They wrote that praise on forms in which they recommended Lett for parole. 

They weren’t alone. 

At his parole revocation hearing, his fellow veterans and fellow Dothan firefighters had also joined the guards, writing letters of praise for Lett and begging the board not to send a good man back to a bad place. 

“Mr. Lett embodies the Army value of selfless service,” wrote John Carroll, a Marine Corps veteran and former U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Middle District of Alabama. “Allowing Mr. Jerry Lett, a sick war veteran, to remain in the community is the only just response to these unique circumstances, and will show that this Board cares about and honors the service of Alabama’s veterans.”

The board didn’t, of course, but several others did. Four former firefighters wrote letters, with one saying Lett was the type of person he wanted in his community. Ten veterans, including men who served with Lett during his 10 years in the Army and seven years in the National Guard, also wrote letters of support. 

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And still, despite all of that — Lett’s exemplary record in prison, his background in the Army and National Guard, his work as a firefighter in Dothan, Lett’s perfect record on parole, the letters from so many veterans and firefighters, the comments from the guards who supervised him and Lett’s failing health — it still wasn’t enough for the board.

Not only did it revoke Lett’s parole, it denied him even a 30-day reporting delay — a delay that wasn’t opposed by the Alabama Attorney General’s office — to get to doctors’ appointments and wrap up health care issues. 

And now, it will require decent people working behind the scenes or a crafty legal solution to right this obvious wrong. 

Because the Alabama corrections system isn’t set up to recognize or reward rehabilitation. While it has all the mechanisms in the world to dole out punishment, it has almost zero to allow for leniency or reward when the circumstances dictate. 

And in so many ways, that overwhelmingly punitive mindset — which seems to leave no room whatsoever for rehabilitation — is at the bottom of every single issue with our prison system.

Josh Moon
Written By

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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