WAAY 31 I-TEAM: Future of Alabama parole bill remains unknown

The parole bill would hold the board more accountable.

Posted: May 16, 2019 7:03 PM
Updated: May 16, 2019 9:34 PM

The WAAY 31 I-Team went to Montgomery on Thursday to ask lawmakers why they are flip-flopping on the timeline of the parole bill and when it will hit the Senate floor.

The bill passed the House last week and now it's up to Senator Cam Ward (R) to carry it through. Right now, lawmakers are only meeting three days a week and the session will only last a few more weeks, which could endanger the bill if it's not voted on.

The parole bill was introduced at the behest of Governor Kay Ivey and Attorney General Steve Marshall after a series of WAAY 31 I-Team investigations pointed to serious flaws in the parole system. The bill would give the governor more oversite at the parole board, strengthen victim notification and stop early parole hearings.

Last Friday, Senator Ward said he was hopeful the parole bill would be on the Senate floor for a vote during the week of May 21st, but now, he's saying it could take a bit longer.

"As the legislative process moves, I can imagine that happening in the next couple of weeks," said Senator Cam Ward, in a news conference on Thursday.

WAAY 31 pulled Senator Ward to the side after the news conference and pressed him for answers on when the parole bill will be on the Senate floor, because we've gotten mixed timelines from him.

Ward and other lawmakers are calling for a special session to tackle prison reform.

"I think we should go on and address those now if we can. I mean we need to take on what we can now," said Senator Ward.

Ward is also working with Democratic lawmakers on the prison reform bills and said they need to work together on the issues from the Department of Corrections and the Pardons and Paroles Board.

"This bill will pass, whether it's now or in a special. I am committed to doing it now. This bill will pass," said Senator Ward.

Governor Kay Ivey, who said parole reform was a top priority in October, has not made a single statement about the parole bill after it passed the House, despite press releases on numerous other bills. We tried to stop and talk to her on Thursday, but her staff said she didn't have time. We asked Marshall why Ivey has been silent on the parole bill.

"In fact, I had a conversation with Governor Ivey today to give her an update on where we were. She has been a champion on this issue and engaged in the discussion, and this is a very important bill for her as well," said Marshall.

Marshall told the WAAY 31 I-Team he is confident the parole bill will pass the Senate and be signed by Ivey in this session.

"It's a matter of public safety and any delay jeopardizes public safety," said Marshall. "Going forward, we hope Senator Ward will be able to present the bill shortly for consideration."

Ward is still hopeful to get the parole bill on the Senate calendar next week. If it passes the Senate, it will head to Governor Ivey's desk, if there aren't any amendments made in the Senate.

We have been calling and emailing the governor's office since last summer for a sit down interview about the parole board. Her office has yet to tell us when this interview could happen.

The WAAY 31 I-Team began looking into the parole board's policies and procedures after they paroled a dangerous man. Jimmy Spencer was supposed to be serving a life sentence when he was paroled.

Spencer had multiple run-ins with police and was even arrested on drug charges after he was paroled, yet, he never went back to prison. He's now accused of murdering three people, including a child, in Guntersville.

The WAAY 31 I-Team filed multiple Open Records requests on this case. We found where Spencer remained a violent man while in prison, having some 50 disciplinary reports against him. His victim in Franklin County from the 90s was notified by the parole board about Spencer's hearing in 2008 and 2013, but wasn't notified in 2017.

The parole board said it made a mistake by not notifying the victim, because they misinterpreted state law and didn't think they had to notify this specific victim.

As the I-Team investigated the parole board, we found multiple inmates in prison for serious offenses came up for early parole hearings. After our investigation, Governor Ivey put a stop to early paroles in October and told the board to fix its issues.

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