Last year, 90% of Alabama inmates were denied parole, according to the Associated Press. This percentage is an all-time low.
The decline, according to some critics, shows that the Alabama Parole Board is no longer adhering to its guidelines and that denial has almost become assured.
In one year, 3,593 prisoners were denied parole, while 409 prisoners were given their parole, according to data from the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles.
Former Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobbs is representing an inmate who has been denied parole for a murder conviction.
“They are supposed to ask if someone has been adequately punished,” said Cobb. “She’s 71 and has served 19 years, without violations in 12 years.
“Then the next question is: ‘Do they pose a risk to public safety?’ The woman is in a wheelchair and cannot even go to the bathroom by herself. She’s dying and they just denied her parole. It is an injustice. It is shameful.”
The inmate had her parole opposed by advocacy groups. One in particular, Victims of Crime and Leniency, argued because Harris was convicted of murder, parole should be denied.
“If these folks are upset about the number of inmates paroled, they should come everyday and listen to the horrible crimes they committed,” said Janette Grantham, the group’s executive director. “They would understand why these violent offenders should serve their sentence.”
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said the parole board’s purpose is to protect the public.
“By law, the paramount duty of the board is to ensure public safety,” he said. “Not to appease the anti-incarceration community.”
Another related issue involving the Alabama prison system is the time in which state executions must occur.
The Alabama Supreme Court eliminated the requirement of all executions having to take place within one day, with the death warrant ending at midnight.
This ruling gives the governor the authority to set the window of time for the execution and also eliminates automatic review for trial errors in the cases involving the death penalty.
Gov. Kay Ivey’s administration was pleased with the ruling.
Giana Maiola, an Ivey spokeswoman, said, “I view this as a win for justice. As we initially interpret the order, it secures an extended time frame, which was a primary request of the governor’s.”
The founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, Bryan Stevenson, is against the changes.
“I think the combination of these two rules increases the likelihood that we’re going to see more wrongful convictions, more unjust sentences and more cruelty and potential torture,” Stevenson told the Associated Press.
Stevenson also noted that states other than Alabama provide longer time periods to complete executions. However, according to him, no state allows the governor to have full power in the process.
Austen Shipley is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News.