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AG Marshall calls on legislature to pass bill reforming pardons, paroles board

Attorney General Steve Marshall is imploring the state legislature to pass a bill that would ensure the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles cannot release violent offenders after only a short period of their sentence.

HB 380, sponsored by Rep. Connie Rowe (R-Jasper), was crafted by Marshall’s office in response to reports in the fall that the board was releasing dangerous felons back onto the street long before their sentences were up.

One egregious example that the attorney general pointed to in a video released on Tuesday was that of Jimmy O’Neal Spencer, who is now charged with three murders in Marshall’s home county after he was released by the Board of Pardons and Paroles while serving a life sentence.

Marshall emphasized that the pardons and paroles system is “badly broken.”

The video also featured testimony from Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich and Azzie Taylor, the chief of criminal trials in the attorney general’s office.

Rich stressed, “I’ve never seen the situation that we have currently with the Board of Pardons and Paroles as bad as it is right now.”

She explained that citizens are losing trust in the system because they see a “revolving door” of violent criminals being sentenced and then soon released on an early schedule.

Filed on Tuesday, HB 380 would be a comprehensive overhaul of the Board of Pardons and Paroles. The legislation would specifically mandate that individuals convicted of certain violent offenses serve 85 percent of his or her sentence before being eligible for parole. Current law only stipulates that violent offenders serve one-third or ten years of his or her sentence, whichever is less, unless a unanimous vote of the board rules otherwise.

HB 380 also establishes a set time schedule for parole consideration of various sentence lengths.

The bill would require that at least one of the three members of the board be a current or former law enforcement officer with a minimum of ten-years’ experience “in or with a law enforcement agency which has among its primary duties and responsibilities the investigation of violent crimes or the apprehension, arrest, or supervision of the perpetrators thereof.”

Additionally, HB 380 would establish a director of Pardons and Paroles that would serve as its chief executive officer. This position would be appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the governor. The bill makes further structural and operational changes to the board.

Language in the bill reaffirms that “the board’s paramount duty is to protect public safety” when making decisions.

In the video, Marshall thanked Rowe and Senate Judiciary Chairman Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) for their leading support of the legislation.

Watch:

You can read the bill here.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn