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Paul DeMarco: Despite record crime wave, efforts persist to pressure Alabama Parole Board to release more violent inmates

The rate of homicides in the nation is at its highest rate in modern history based on data recently released from the United States government.

Yet, there is a persistent and concerted effort to weaken the criminal justice system in Alabama. And the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles is being attacked for simply doing fulfilling its mission and responsibilities.

The political attacks against the board are not surprising as liberal advocacy groups around the country are pushing to defund the police, remove bail and are generally opposed to the imprisonment of criminals.

The Board has been criticized over the past year for not allowing more prisoners out of jail, including violent criminals. These misguided liberal groups and individuals are fully aware that over 80% of those in the state corrections system are there because they were convicted of a violent felony. However, they want to use political pressure on the Board to continue to push their agenda that would put at risk the safety of every Alabamian.

A prior parole board did just what these activists wanted and allowed violent felons out of prison early. And it led to increasing incidences of re-offense by these criminals. One of those releases led to the murder of three individuals in Marshal County, including a 7-year-old child. Those liberal groups were silent in the face of these failed policies.

Those murders and others led to the push to reform the Board by the Governor and Attorney General. The long-needed reform of the Parole Board was a success for the citizens of this state in that the board started prioritizing public safety. In addition, in the past there were problems with notification to state district attorneys and victims. The new Parole Board is focused on the decisions at hand. They now make an individualized assessment of each offender and their potential risk to the public and have rightly respected the sentences handed down by judges who heard the evidence in these cases.

We actually have a professional parole board that takes their job seriously and look at each hearing on a case-by-case basis. The dishonest attacks against this board are based on politics as opposed to what the citizens of this state expect, which is a judicial system that holds convicted felons accountable for their crimes. This Board must first and foremost always consider public safety, and also consider the reason an inmate was sent to prison, and why a judge imposed the length of the sentence following conviction.

In this upcoming Alabama legislative session, you can expect bills introduced to weaken the Board again and allow more violent felons on the streets.

There will be an attempt to remove much of the discretion from the Board and treat parole more as an entitlement, where there is a presumption of parole under many circumstances.

Alabama citizens now need to make their voices heard with their elected officials that they will not stand for any efforts by the Alabama Legislature to weaken the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles resulting in an early release of violent felons.

Paul DeMarco is a former member of the Alabama House of Representatives