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Bureau of Pardons & Parole director Ward: ‘Don’t anticipate’ sentencing reform from legislature; Embattled Board of Pardons & Paroles ‘actually following the statute’

During a wide-ranging interview given to The Bibb Voice’s Mike Hobson, Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles director Cam Ward discussed some of the issues facing the state’s beleaguered criminal justice system, including efforts to improve conditions on the heels of a 2021 special legislative session dealing with prison construction.

Ward, formerly a member of the Alabama State Senate, discussed plans to reduce recidivism and the facility acquired by the state in Perry County meant to ease some of the burden on the state’s prison system.

When asked by Hobson about the possibility of the legislature taking another crack at sentencing reform, Ward said he did not expect it to be considered by the legislature.

“I think the legislature has done a lot already on sentencing reform,” he said. “They kind of have done as much as you can because what sentencing reform up until now has dealt with is non-violent offenders — how do you handle drug possession. I just don’t see an appetite for that with the legislature, and I don’t see that being part of the agenda as far as any kind of sentencing changes. I do think there’s more improvements we can make with the Department of Corrections and Pardons and Paroles we can do internally that doesn’t require legislation. But I don’t anticipate the legislature taking on any more sentencing reform any time soon.”

Ward also addressed the Board of Pardons and Paroles, which operates separately from his Bureau of Pardons and Paroles.

While seeming to take issue with the board’s disinterest in guidelines, he said it was functioning as intended under current Alabama law.

“I’m going to get myself in trouble here because the board doesn’t work for me, and I don’t work for them,” Ward explained. “But I will say this — as someone who has studied this while I was in the legislature and now as being director of the bureau, I will say — one, they actually follow the law as to how they are granted and denied. … Now, we may not agree with why they denied but as far as stating why, they’re actually following the statute. The issue is in Alabama, the statute is so broad that the board basically has complete and utter discretion to follow the guidelines or not follow the guidelines.”

“Me, personally — my opinion, if you’re going to have guidelines, follow them,” he continued. “If you’re not going to follow them, why do you have them? So I do think there needs to be some more adherence to the guidelines, and that’s up to that three-member board who is appointed by the Governor, confirmed by the legislature. I would say, though, they’re following what the law says. Now, we don’t like the law, the way it is worded, change the law.”

“[I]f we don’t like that they’re not following them, change the statute,” Ward added.

@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.