Divided committee approves parole board changes
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A divided Alabama legislative committee advanced a bill Tuesday to give the governor more control over the state parole board and take some discretion in deciding who gets released from prison from the board.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 6-5 to send the bill to the full Senate floor. The House of Representatives voted 73-27 for the bill earlier this month.
Republican Rep. Connie Rowe, a former police chief who is sponsoring the bill, argued the changes would put more accountability on the parole board.
Rowe said the release of some violent offenders, including Jimmy O’Neal Spencer, who later was accused of killing three people in Guntersville, shows the need for change.
“We have to respond to three dead people in Guntersville,” Rowe said.
Opponents said the bill would politicize the parole process.
Parole Board Chairwoman Lyn Head said none of the changes proposed by the bill would “have changed what people are concerned about.”
“We are heartbroken over what happened,” Head said in reference to the Spencer case. “But I submit to you that none of the measures in this bill would give any of us a crystal ball.”
Spencer was paroled in 2017 after serving time for assault and burglary. Last year, he was charged in the deaths of three people in Guntersville.
The legislation would give the governor and attorney general veto power over any early paroles. It would write into law current rules that set sentence minimums inmates generally must serve before becoming parole eligible.
The governor also would have more control by making the director of the Board of Pardons and Paroles a gubernatorial appointee who could be dismissed at will.
The legislation comes after Gov. Kay Ivey and Attorney General Steve Marshall expressed alarm last year about the release of some offenders.
Inmate advocates opposed the changes they feared would politicize the parole process.
Maureen Morris, a social worker, said her husband has served 23 years of a 30-year sentence. Morris said that the victim’s family does not object to his release.