Editor’s Note: This is an opinion column.
By Paul DeMarco
After the 2018 murder of three victims in Marshall County by a parolee, the Alabama Legislature and governor enacted a law overhauling how the Board of Pardons and Paroles operates.
Since then, the current parole board has earned the reputation of putting public safety first when deciding who to release early from Alabama prisons. Now liberal lawmakers and activist groups are working to handcuff this board from doing their job, and new legislation (HB 57) will undoubtedly have a significant and unfortunate impact on public safety.
The legislation will mandate the use of new Parole Release Guidelines to assess which criminals should be released early, as opposed to relying on the experience and judgment of the Parole Board to make these decisions. A mere checklist and point system can’t possibly evaluate the potential danger. Our state is no different than others around the country, where soft-on-crime activist groups want to weaken our criminal justice system and make it harder to keep violent offenders behind bars. This is particularly frightening when you realize almost 83 percent of the in-house population of Alabama prisons are inmates convicted of violent offenses, and many are repeat offenders.
Further, the bill gives inmates a new right to appeal if their parole is denied. Thus, instead of the parole board making a decision based on their exhaustive review of all relevant issues, judges may reverse the parole board’s decisions, potentially leading to the early release of a violent criminal.
Also, if enacted, many aspects of the new process would be hidden from the public, such as the development of the new guidelines and the failure to notify crime victims (as well as the prosecutor and local police) that the inmate is pursuing an appeal of the Parole Board’s decision. Quite simply, this bill would turn the clock back and put the interests of convicted felons ahead of public safety and victims who have already suffered so much.
The primary goals of the parole board should always be public safety and justice. But some liberals believe parole should just be an entitlement regardless of the crime or the number of infractions committed while in prison.
How many times do we have to read headlines about dangerous criminals being released early, only to commit another horrendous crime?
Fortunately, Alabama has a team of crime victim advocates who attempt to monitor legislation that would be detrimental, and they work diligently to educate state officials about the serious consequences of what could occur if these reckless bills are passed.
This is one of those bills that Alabama lawmakers should stop before it goes any further this session.
Paul DeMarco is a former member of the Alabama House of Representatives.