I-Team: Parole board policies and procedures come under fire in wake of Jimmy Spencer case

The analytical tool the parole board uses is coming under fire from multiple people and state agencies.

Posted: Sep 6, 2018 3:49 PM
Updated: Oct 26, 2018 3:35 PM

The WAAY31 I-team is learning more about an analytical tool that lead to a man being paroled who now stands accused of murdering three people.

A former parole board member shared his opinion on the tool and if it's working or releasing dangerous people on the streets.

WAAY 31 obtained a copy of the reasons Jimmy Spencer was paroled. The parole board said Spencer was put in the category by this analytical tool of having a 'low' to 'medium' chance of re-offending. They also said he had a positive conduct record while in prison. Spencer did break out of prison numerous times and assaulted another inmate. Spencer was supposed to be serving a life sentence for crimes he committed in Franklin County.

The WAAY 31 I-team has been following the Spencer case and this is what we've found so far. He was let out of prison in January 2018. He then walked away from a residential facility he was supposed to stay at for six months after only three weeks. Was arrested in June for drug paraphernalia charges by Sardis police and had a run in with Guntersville police on the same day.

Both police departments tell us they ran his name in a national crime data base but no warrants popped up. Spencer was arrested on July 16th and charged with killing three people in Guntersville.

The parole board asked the department of corrections to issue a warrant for his arrest on July 20th. DOC issued that arrest warrant one day later but it came down a week after Spencer was already behind bars in Guntersville. The parole board held a hearing just a few weeks ago to revoke his parole.

The Attorney General's office is even questioning the parole boards use of this analytical tool. They told WAAY 31, "This case also raises concerns with the board’s risk assessment procedures and whether the implementation of this process is failing the public."

Bobby Longshore, who served on the parole board for 11 years and actually denied Jimmy Spencer parole twice, told WAAY 31 the parole boards use of the analytical tool was one reason he couldn't continue being on the board. The tool is used to measure an inmates chances of re-offending scientifically, rather than using judgement.

"I just did not want an analytical tool trumping my expertise in the system," said Longshore.

Longshore said he spent countless hours pouring over an inmates file before reaching a decision to grant parole or not. He said all of that changed when the Justice Reinvestment Act of 2015 was passed. The new law implemented the Ohio Risk and Needs Assessment System better known as ORAS (pg. 6). The analytical tool used by the board today.

"As I saw that there was a move to place the blame on the parole board for overcrowding and to blame the parole board for failure to fix it certain programs were projected and proposed that I could not, and did not support," said Longshore.

Basically the analytical tool takes into account a number of things; from a field officers notes on an inmate, home plans, mental exams etc. The analytical tool then puts inmates in different categories from a high chance of re-offending to a very low chance of re-offending.

"The analytical tool which they will tell you right now it's simply a tool to look at and it's not a guide as to whether someone should be paroled or not. Whether or not that's the way it's being used or not I don't know," said Longshore.

The parole board told us they use the analytical tool two ways. The parole board uses it to take into account an inmates chance of re-offending, if they are granted parole the analytical tool is used to see how much supervision a parolee needs.

"The board gets their assessment and they base their decision on the probability that the ORAS assessment dictates for that person, the probably of re-offending. Then we do an assessment in the field to determine how their risk of re-offending in the community and we base our supervision on that," said Darrell Morgan, the Assistant Executive Director of the Alabama Pardon and Parole Board.

The attorney general's office told WAAY31 they are concerned about the boards policies and procedues like this analytical tool. They told us they are working with prosecutors and law enforcement around the state on a plan. We asked them what that plan is and when information on the plan could be released. They have not responded to that email yet.

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