WAAY 31 I-TEAM: Alabama parole bill in danger of failing due to Senate

It's up to the Senate to put the parole bill on the calendar and take it to a vote.

Posted: May 21, 2019 4:58 PM
Updated: May 21, 2019 9:28 PM

The WAAY 31 I-Team learned plans to potentially fix Alabama's broken pardon and parole system may die in the Senate.

VOCAL, a victims advocacy group, sent the I-Team this in an email:

"The Senate plans to let the SB42 die without it going to the Senate floor for a vote," and, "The passage of SB42 is in danger of failure."

Leaders of the parole board call the bill bad for the state and urged its workers to fight against it. All of this started when the I-Team uncovered the board repeatedly failed to follow its own guidelines.

"The attorney general has never pointed me to a reason why. Why is he better able to judge what we do and what we don't than I am?" said Parole Board Chairperson, Lyn Head.

Head believes she's the best person to lead Alabama's Board of Pardons and Paroles. Governor Kay Ivey promoted Head to be the chairperson late last year to shake up the board after a series of mistakes, punctuated by Head and two other members letting a career criminal serving a life sentence out on parole. Jimmy Spencer is now charged with killing three people in Marshall County.

"Given his background, there was no way to predict he (Spencer) would do this," said Head.

Spencer spent more than 30 years in prison, escaped at least three times and repeatedly got into trouble for attacking guards and other inmates. WAAY 31 asked Head, since they had seen all of Spencer's disciplinary reports from prison, why was he still paroled?

"I did not specifically vote to parole him so I can't really comment," said Head.

Head didn't vote for or against Spencer's parole and repeatedly said she doesn't remember why. She also mentioned Spencer's prison violations dropped as he got older.

Head's adamant nobody showed up to speak against his parole, but admits the board never told Spencer's victim. The district attorney in Franklin County insists he didn't know either. Head questioned that claim.

"Our file says he got notified. Whether he didn't see it, whether it got lost in the mail, nobody can say that. Our file says we sent the notice," said Head.

Lawmakers want to make sure notifications are sent and received. They also want to stop early parole for violent offenders and see better relationships between the board and victims' families. The WAAY 31 I-team asked Head why she is against this legislation.

"Well, there are actually some really good parts to this legislation. The codification of our policies, that really has no effect on us because we are going to follow our policies anyway," said Head.

The WAAY 31 I-Team uncovered the board didn't follow its policies in Spencer's case. Errors range from mis-classifying Spencer as a non-victim and non-violent offender, to failing to notify his victim and Spencer's parole officer taking weeks to respond when police in Sardis arrested him on drug charges.

"I think because of the incident with Spencer and the mistakes made with early consideration, those circumstances have highlighted the negative perception of our agency as a whole," said Head. "Our agency is going to never make popular decisions. We're releasing people from prison who have done some seriously bad things."

It's why Head, Marshall and VOCAL are so focused on the Spencer case.

"I had a lawyer call and ask, 'Does she [Governor Kay Ivey] have the authority to tell your agency to do anything?' And I said, 'Legally, no,'" said Head.

The WAAY 31 I-Team also discovered the board calling up dozens of violent inmates for early parole. It's why the attorney general called the system "broken." The Alabama House already passed a bill (House Bill 380) to fix some of those problems. It's now up to the Senate to pass Senate Bill 42. The two bills are word-for-word the same and are companion bills.

Senate Bill 42 must make it out of the Senate committee and then be put on the calendar for a vote to happen. The session has less than ten legislative days left in this session.

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