Attorney General Steve Marshall lays out legislative fix for Parole Board

The bill to fix the parole board was introduced in the judiciary committee Wednesday morning.

Posted: Apr 10, 2019 2:27 PM
Updated: Apr 11, 2019 12:44 PM

Our WAAY31 I-team investigation into the Alabama Pardon and Parole Board uncovered serious flaws in the system.

Because of these flaws, Attorney General Steve Marshall and lawmakers introduced sweeping legislation on Wednesday to fix a broken system.

"In January 2018, Jimmy O’Neal Spencer, a violent offender sentenced to life imprisonment, was released from prison after being recklessly and wrongfully paroled by the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles,” said Marshall. "Months later, Spencer brutally murdered two women and a 7-year-old boy in their homes. This tragic failure of our justice system should have never happened —and cannot ever be allowed to happen again."

This legislation is by Sen. Cam Ward and Rep. Connie Rowe. The legislation will tackle the Parole Board in six categories from how the board is appointed to victim notification.

In a press release about the new legislation, the Attorney General's office said: “Under the reform legislation sponsored by Senator Ward and Representative Rowe, the process by which the Governor appoints Board members would be made more in line with the Governor’s standing appointment authority for other boards, with Senate confirmation. The legislation creates the position of ‘Director of Pardons and Paroles’ who would serve as the agency head, while the Board would retain its independent judicial function of granting or denying parole and issuing pardons. The legislation codifies the Board’s existing policies on parole consideration dates. The bill also strengthens the Board’s duty to provide notice to victims. These changes are designed to increase accountability, set clear parameters, and make certain that no prisoner who is a threat to public safety can slip through the cracks."

WAAY31 sat down with Marshall to discuss the legislation.

"This bill is designed to remind those three individuals who serve on the board that their paramount concern needs to be public safety," he said.

Under this new legislation, Marshall said the governor would have more power over the Pardons and Parole Board and directly appoint members instead of having to appoint members from a list selected by the Alabama Senate.

"Right now that is an agency that is accountable to no one. We believe they should be accountable to the governor and the people of the state," said Marshall.

Former Parole Board member Bobby Longshore, who is now appointed to be Gov. Kay Ivey's eyes and ears at the parole board, said this proposed legislation changes how the board currently operates.

"The amendments to the structure are fairly dramatic," said Longshore.

This new legislation would create a position called the "Director of Pardons and Paroles." In this new position the director would serve and be appointed by the governor. Longshore said this is a good thing because it makes the three board members solely focus on cases.

"Everything else such as the running of this multimillion dollar organization called the Board of Pardons and Paroles is taken off their plate and dealt with strictly in an administrative capacity. They can focus on exactly what that job is," said Longshore.

This bill basically stops early parole hearings and says if an inmate is serving back-to-back (consecutive) sentences they will have to be paroled on one sentence at a time, which means it would take them a long time to get out of prison. Longshore said this will effect the entire criminal justice system in the state of Alabama.

"Judges will have to determine do I really mean for this person to die in prison," said Longshore.

These changes will strengthen victim notification, too, by extending victim notification not just to immediate family but also to anyone who is interested in a specific case. The Pardons and Parole Board also have to show proof they did everything they could to reach a victim's family and tell them about a parole hearing. No inmate will be granted a parole hearing unless everyone has been contacted and they parole board can show proof that they did everything they could to contact a victim's family.

"This statue requires them to have a due diligence certification that they have done their due diligence to find these people," said Longshore.

This legislation also says the Pardons and Parole Board can't make up their own rules or policy without consent from the state. Marshall said he believes this bill will be passed swiftly and signed into law.

WAAY31 began looking into the parole board's policies and procedures after it paroled a violent man serving a life sentence for crimes he committed in the Shoals. WAAY31 spent months filing open records requests to the state about Jimmy Spencer.

We were able to uncover that the parole board never notified Spencer's victim in Franklin County about his 2017 parole hearing, but the victim was notified for hearings in 2008 and 2013. At those, the victim asked the board to keep Spencer behind bars. The parole board later said it misinterpreted the law and that's why the victim wasn't notified in 2017.

After Spencer was paroled he walked away from a halfway house he was supposed to be at for six months. According to documents, his parole officer thought Spencer was still at the halfway house. Spencer was then arrested in June by Sardis police for attempting to elude, resisting arrest, and drug charges. Sardis police said they notified Spencer's parole officer but nothing was done and Spencer walked away. Weeks later he was arrested for killing Colton Lee, Marie Martin and Martha Reliford in Guntersville.

Marshall said the system of checks and balances were in place and someone failed to do their job and that's how Spencer slipped through the cracks. The state said Spencer should have never been paroled to start with.

WAAY31 also uncovered Spencer's reports while he was in prison. He had some 50 disciplinary actions against him for stabbings, fights, and assaulting correctional officers.

Huntsville/Redstone
Partly Cloudy
53° wxIcon
Hi: 68° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 53°
Muscle Shoals
Partly Cloudy
56° wxIcon
Hi: 67° Lo: 52°
Feels Like: 56°
Huntsville/Madison
Partly Cloudy
52° wxIcon
Hi: 66° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: 52°
Decatur
Partly Cloudy
53° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 53°
Fort Payne
Partly Cloudy
53° wxIcon
Hi: 68° Lo: 52°
Feels Like: 53°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 521623

Reported Deaths: 10739
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson754061493
Mobile39067799
Madison34040496
Tuscaloosa25367444
Montgomery24019567
Shelby23186239
Baldwin20701302
Lee15589165
Calhoun14342311
Morgan14158271
Etowah13685346
Marshall11995220
Houston10404278
Elmore10011200
Limestone9852147
Cullman9503189
St. Clair9463234
Lauderdale9265228
DeKalb8757181
Talladega8115171
Walker7139275
Jackson6756110
Autauga6750103
Blount6519134
Colbert6229130
Coffee5424113
Dale4772111
Russell430038
Franklin420782
Chilton4101109
Covington4061114
Tallapoosa3907146
Escambia390174
Dallas3525149
Chambers3514122
Clarke347060
Marion3072100
Pike306176
Lawrence295995
Winston273172
Bibb256059
Marengo248361
Geneva246075
Pickens233259
Barbour226455
Hale218575
Butler212967
Fayette209460
Henry188044
Cherokee182644
Randolph177241
Monroe172540
Washington165238
Macon155648
Clay150155
Crenshaw149457
Cleburne146741
Lamar139734
Lowndes136553
Wilcox124427
Bullock121640
Conecuh109428
Perry107626
Sumter103232
Coosa99428
Greene91434
Choctaw58824
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 830484

Reported Deaths: 12049
CountyCasesDeaths
Shelby927281585
Davidson87309923
Knox49411623
Hamilton43254481
Rutherford41816420
Williamson27237214
Sumner23155339
Montgomery19075224
Wilson17979224
Out of TN1794598
Unassigned16655134
Sullivan16096287
Blount14963194
Bradley14518147
Washington14129242
Sevier13116174
Maury13021168
Putnam11155173
Madison10771240
Robertson9567127
Anderson8599171
Hamblen8478170
Greene7715152
Tipton7216102
Coffee6824121
Dickson6724109
Cumberland6555127
Carter6443156
Bedford6409127
Gibson6387144
McMinn634295
Roane6174102
Jefferson6061121
Loudon601169
Lawrence578686
Hawkins5766106
Monroe570295
Warren550881
Dyer5357104
Franklin508388
Fayette490377
Obion449996
Cocke442998
Cheatham442254
Rhea430375
Lincoln429563
Marshall410358
Campbell408462
Weakley401962
Giles393998
Henderson372475
Macon357376
Carroll357182
White353968
Hardin349166
Hardeman345863
Lauderdale314244
Henry311875
Marion308346
Claiborne305573
Scott305145
Overton296360
Wayne294234
Hickman279645
McNairy276754
DeKalb274953
Smith273938
Haywood268161
Grainger258449
Trousdale248722
Morgan245539
Fentress238046
Johnson230238
Bledsoe209411
Chester209351
Crockett200948
Polk199024
Unicoi194149
Cannon188831
Union185634
Grundy177232
Humphreys173621
Lake169526
Sequatchie166428
Benton162940
Decatur157338
Lewis155726
Meigs134123
Stewart130028
Jackson129635
Clay109031
Houston108333
Perry105728
Moore99717
Van Buren83421
Pickett75624
Hancock54712

Community Events