As Republican members of the legislature seem to be nearing a framework on how to proceed with fixing Alabama’s prison woes, some Democrats have attempted to steer the discussion away from prison construction and to criminal justice reform.
Attorney General Steve Marshall warned against conflating prison construction and criminal justice reform.
During an appearance on Mobile radio’s FM Talk 106.5’s “The Jeff Poor Show,” Marshall argued the U.S. Department of Justice complaint against the State of Alabama and the Alabama Department of Corrections was more about prison facilities “inside the wire,” and not about how individuals were sentenced.
“I think it’s about whether or not we meet that constitutional minimum care of inmates that have been established kind of through multiple cases describing what that is across the facilities within the state,” he said. “Many on the left would use the DOJ case to accomplish the goals of reform that, frankly, I don’t think are helpful. In fact, they endanger public safety, and when you look at right now violent crime rates going across this country — we’ve seen a spike in violent crime in Alabama — I don’t think we need to talk about lessening the punishment for those who engage in violent acts and violate our criminal laws in this state.”
Among the suggestions from Democrats has been a shake-up at the Alabama Board of Pardons & Paroles.
State Rep. Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa), who also chairs the Alabama Democratic Party, has called for the ouster of Pardons & Paroles Board chair Leigh Gwathney.
New prisons won’t fix this problem. We can’t just build our way out of this crisis. Unless folks like Leigh Gwathney and Jeff Dunn are removed and the Legislature engages in real substantive reform, we will just have new buildings with the same old problems. #ImpeachLeighGwathney https://t.co/FrsqQ6zv6Q
— Chris England (@RepEngland70) August 19, 2021
Marshall insisted the opposite, which was a shake-up was not a remedy, and he said the Board of Pardons & Paroles was functioning as it was intended to under Gwathney’s leadership.
“No, not in my mind,” Marshall replied. “In fact, I think the board has done exactly what they’ve been called to do. And to some extent, if we compare prior boards with this one, I think you’ve got to ask the question: Was the prior board concerned about public safety, or were they concerned about letting inmates out? The primary concern in a parole decision for an inmate ought to be whether or not they potentially are a significant threat to public safety, and is it appropriate for them to be released out into the general population? There’s no doubt that the people who are in there have been given a defined sentence. Parole is a benefit for somebody to get out earlier than they otherwise would be entitled to.”
“One of the things we’ve been clear on throughout as we have these discussions of what the parole board should be is that their focus should be on making sure whoever is released that there is confidence that person is going to be able to come out and be a productive member of society,” he added. “And so, I think every case is unique. It ought to be evaluated on their individual circumstances. And what we’ve seen is a board that has been responsible thus far with decisions. Greatly appreciate Leigh Gwathney’s leadership as chair, and they need to be that independent arm acting on behalf of the general public to make sure we’re considering public safety paramount and whether or not inmates can be safely released back into society to be productive in their future lives.”
@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.