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Ivey appoints new member to Board of Pardons and Parole

Ivey tapped longtime probation and parole officer Gabrelle Simmons to fill the position.

Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles
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The vacant seat on the Alabama Board of Pardons and Parole three-member board was filled following an appointment by Gov. Kay Ivey, ending a vacancy of two months.

According to information confirmed to Alabama Daily News, Ivey tapped Gabrelle Simmons to fill the position. Simmons was one of five candidates recommended for the board seat and has over 20 years of experience with the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Parole. Simmons began as a probation and parole officer in 2004 and rose through the ranks to become director of board operations in Oct. 2020.

“I’m excited about my new position,” said Simmons. “I’ve worked the majority of my career in conjunction with the Board. Public safety is first and foremost to me, and I plan to look at each file on an individual basis to make an informed decision using my knowledge and experience with adult probation and parole.”

Prior to Simmons, Kim Davidson served as the third board member from March following the resignation of David Spurlock in Dec. 22. Davidson was only appointed to serve out the final portion of Spurlock’s tenure which came to an end in June. So, this year the board has had four months where the seat has been filled and four months during which the seat is vacant.

The process for Ivey to appoint members to the board is dependent upon a three member body of high ranking legislators nominating candidates. House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, Senate President Greg Reed, R-Jasper, and Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth makeup this legislative body. According to AL Daily News, the body did not present a list of candidates to be considered for the role until mid-August.

Davidson’s departure also marked a notable decline in the parole grant rate. The grant rate fell to 4.1 percent in July and this is largely because the board needs a majority vote to grant an individual parole.

However, the parole grant rate has gradually fallen for each year since 2019, which coincides with the appointment of current Chair Leigh Gwathney taking over. Since Gwathney became chair of the board parole grant rates fell from about 55 percent in 2018 to under 10 percent in 2022.

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The latest monthly statistical report available, which is for March 2023, offers guidelines that depict the recommended grant rate for each month of parole hearings. In March the recommended grant rate was 82% but the board only granted 2%. 

Last week the board held 52 parole hearings on August 22 and 23 and denied all. 

Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, and former Pardons and Parole Chair Lyn Head have both criticized the declining parole rate and the negative consequences it has for individuals as well as Alabama.

“You’ve got the direct cost of yearly housing the prisoners,” Head told APR in an interview. “In addition, to the number of people that you’re multiplying that daily cost are also not in the public working, they’re not paying taxes so there’s that cost. Then, there  is the additional cost that is spread to the family of every single incarcerated individual, because of the trauma that happens to them.” 

Gwathney and Bureau Director Cam Ward welcomed Simmons to the board in a press release statement. 

“On behalf of the Board, we are excited to have Gabrelle Simmons joining the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles,” said Gwathney. “We are grateful for the experience she brings and look forward to her addition to the Board.”

“Over the last three years I have had the honor of working closely with Gabrelle at the Bureau of Pardons and Paroles,” Ward said. “Not only is she highly qualified for this appointment, she will also be hardworking and fair in her new role.”

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Patrick Darrington is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected].

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