Attorney General Steve Marshall urges lawmakers to pass parole reform

Attorney General Steve Marshall testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday, April 10, 2019. (Source: WSFA)
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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Attorney General Steve Marshall testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday, making an urgent call for action to reform the state's parole board.

“What I am here to tell you today is our system is broken,” Marshall stated. “Every day we wait to fix it is a disservice to the people of Alabama.”

Marshall’s proposal adds layers of accountability. First by adding a director who would be appointed by the governor and run the agency’s daily operations.

It was a sticking point for several committee members.

“I believe we need to take as much politics out of this as we possibly can,” stated Senator Vivian Figures. “Especially when it’s like dealing with the Board like this. I totally disagree that the governor should appoint the director.”

Marshall reminded the committee the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles has unlimited power, which is why that portion of the bill is mission-critical for change.

“These reforms cannot be fully implemented if we don’t allow the governor to appoint the director of that organization,” said Marshall after the hearing. “It’s about accountability. Making someone directly accountable to the governor for the reforms we passed two years ago, changes that need to be made, and the inconsistent policies of that organization. To continue to allow the board to make that appointment removes the accountability.”

The parole guidelines created by the board will not change. This proposal would make them part of the law to avoid the issues that prompted this legislation.

“We began to hear stories about individuals with life sentences coming up for parole after six, seven, eight years,” Marshall told the committee. “It’s inconsistent with the rules of that body and the interest of justice.”

Marshall appealed to the committee's senses, stating the Justice Reinvestment Act they passed two years ago isn't fully operational.

“Yet you don’t have anyone to go to for direct accountability to make sure those reforms are fully implemented,” said Marshall.

In October the Governor issued an executive order prompting the Board to create a corrective action plan, which is still being implemented. During their initial meeting, Marshall and the Governor questioned the Board about the operations and their mission.

“We asked the Board what their responsibility was, what was their role,” Marshall explained. “They said we think we have a responsibility deal with prison overpopulation. Their role is to make decisions for the people of this state and focus on public safety.”

Figures offered an amendment to require training for new board members, which was accepted. The Senate could take up the bill as early as next week.

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