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WAAY 31 I-TEAM: Alabama Senate passes bill to reform state parole board

It now heads to Gov. Kay Ivey for her signature.

Posted: May 30, 2019 2:32 PM
Updated: May 30, 2019 9:47 PM

The Alabama Senate has passed a bill that could transform the state’s parole board.

The bill passed by a vote of 25-5. It now heads to Gov. Kay Ivey for her signature.

The bill gives the governor more oversight of the board, stops early paroles and strengthens victim notifications. According to VOCAL (Victims of Crime and Leniency), Senate Bill 92 also passed on Thursday, which says when a parolee absconds from their designated facility they are paroled to, all law enforcement officers must be notified immediately.

The WAAY 31 I-Team investigation into the parole board began after a horrific murder of three innocent people in Guntersville. Colton Lee, 7, his great grandmother, Marie Martin, and their neighbor across the street, Martha Reliford, were murdered at their homes on Mulberry Street in Guntersville last July.

A few days later, Jimmy Spencer was arrested and charged in their murders. We began digging into the parole board's policies and discovered a series of failures that led to Spencer, a violent man, being released and not kept up with.

Jimmy Spencer was supposed to be serving a life sentence. Documents obtained by the WAAY 31 I-Team show Spencer remained a violent man while in prison, with some 50 disciplinary reports. Spencer's original victim, nor the Franklin County District Attorney, were notified about his 2017 parole hearing, which is illegal. Yet, he was still paroled in January 2018. The board sent him to a halfway house, but he walked away from there in February 2018.

Spencer's parole officer failed to keep up with him, and said in his own documents that Spencer was reporting to him like normal, and he did not know he walked away from the halfway house. Then, Spencer was arrested on drug charges and got into a scuffle with Sardis police in June 2018. Those charges should have been a violation of his parole, but, again, the system failed.

One month later, Spencer was arrested for the Mulberry Street murders. Spencer is currently in Kilby Correctional Facility waiting on his trial for the murders.

Once the bill became law, the changes at the parole board would not take effect immediately. The wording of the bill says after being signed by the governor, it would take about three months to take effect. That's because it would take sometime to do the policy changes and find a person to serve at the governor's behest over the parole board.

Governor Ivey told WAAY 31 on Thursday she knew the parole bill would pass, and she looks forward to signing it. There is not word on what the official law could be called once it's signed.

Shortly after the bill passed the Senate, the Southern Poverty Law Center came out against the legislation.

The organization said in part, "HB380, if signed into law by the governor, will exacerbate the overcrowding problem. Limiting parole limits one of the most effective pathways to reducing overcrowding and the violence faced by ADOC staff and incarcerated people."

The SPLC said, according to its study on Department of Corrections data, the parole system is working. The group said this legislation will punish rehabilitated inmates, causing them to stay in prison longer.

Governor Ivey's Office released this statement after the state legislature’s passage of HB380:

“Too many lives were lost because of wrongful, early paroles in our state. Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall and I have been relentless in our efforts to ensure the Board of Pardons and Paroles is managed prudently and effectively.

“This bill ensures strong accountability and oversight of a large state agency with more than 600 employees. The justice system should not fail the people of our state again, like it did in the Jimmy O’Neal Spencer case last year.

“I commend Rep. Rowe, Sen. Ward and the Alabama Legislature on the successful passage of this bill. Ultimately, this is a major win for victims’ rights, the families of victims and every citizen across the state. We will continue to be steadfast in our efforts to improve the pardons and paroles system, while restoring confidence in public safety.

“I look forward to receiving and signing this important piece of legislation.”

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