Graddick: Clarifying the roles at Pardons and Paroles.

Graddick: Clarifying the roles at Pardons and Paroles.

By Judge Charlie Graddick

Director, Bureau of Pardons and Paroles

First, it needs to be made clear that there is an extremely important legal difference between the Bureau of Pardons and Paroles and the Board of Pardons and Paroles.

The three-member board is autonomous, by law. It governs itself and controls its own affairs. I am not a member of the Board and have no more in-put on its decision making that any other citizen. Like any other citizen, I have a right to my opinion. 

The Board, by law, is detached from the Bureau when it comes to making decisions on pardons and paroles. It is a dependent objective group, akin to a judicial body. 

The Director has absolutely no role in the Board’s deliberations or rulings, and at no time influences or interferes with its voting functions The three Board members are appointed. I have no control over that process. Board members use the law, the rules, their experience and, importantly, their own common sense to evaluate each case on its own merit.

I was a presiding circuit judge in Mobile for almost 20 years. Prior to that, I served as Mobile District Attorney and then State Attorney General. I have been in law enforcement for more than 30 years.  I am experienced.

I know from that experience, and know it absolutely, that in some cases a judicious decision may be made quickly because it is an obvious one, on its face. 

This in no way implies the case wasn’t given the attention it deserved or required. 

Inmates go before the Board because state law and rules require it, not because I or someone else makes that determination. 

The Bureau’s role is to support the board by setting the dockets of all those eligible for parole at their earliest time. 

We also provide the Board with all available information and facts so it can make the very best and informed decision possible on each case. 

In addition to what the Bureau provides the Board, board members also hear from all interested parties from all sides in person at the hearing and are given any written comments prior thereto from those interested.

The law is clear, and the Bureau and the Board will strictly follow it. Alabama law says, the Attorney General has said, the Governor has made it crystal clear, and I agree that the Bureau of Pardons and Paroles’ primary responsibility to the citizens of our State is PUBLIC SAFETY. It is not the Board’s duty, role, or responsibility by law or otherwise, nor the Director’s, to alleviate prison overcrowding. 

The Department of Corrections and legislators should address any issue of prison overcrowding – not the Parole Board.

Regarding open communication with the public about the decisions of the Board; I am dismayed to think anyone would object to us being as transparent as allowed by law. We, as a Bureau, in addition to our statutory and administrative duties, should inform the public of who is appearing, what cases are reviewed, and what decisions are made at Board hearings. The public facts are a matter of public record. Why would communicating that information to our citizens concern anyone? 

How I may feel about a parole case one way or the other or my opinions have not nor will they ever be communicated or given the Board on any case. 

Yes, I am aware they likely know I am a believer that violent criminals should be closely examined to assure public safety. They are charged with determining if that individual can return as a responsible member of society and not harm others in any way. 

There’s nothing wrong with encouraging the use of common sense. And those who believe parole is an inmate’s right – they are just wrong.

The Bureau performs its critical support role but has discontinued making any recommendations either for or against parole. That’s neither the Bureau’s duty nor role by law and now also not by law since September 1.

Some seem to simply believe we shouldn’t have prisons or that we should be lenient to those who hurt or kill others or rape and pillage. I disagree, as do the vast majority of law-abiding, peaceful Alabamians.

Not one of us committed the crime or crimes for which an inmate was convicted, either by a plea of guilty or by a jury of our citizens finding beyond a reasonable doubt his or her guilt. It was a very poor decision to violate the law by that inmate. A judge uses great care in his/her sentence. The facts are thoroughly considered, the individual’s history, the gravity of the crime and the judge’s years of experience were all used in the decision to sentence the criminal to a specific number of years.

It is the Parole Board’s responsibility, using legal guidelines, to determine if that inmate has earned a chance, under the law, to not serve the entirety of the judge’s sentence.  

We are following the law and we are being as transparent as the law allows. If that is concerning or upsetting to a few, then so be it. The Governor requested and charged me to fix the Bureau where needed and do it by the law. I am and I will.

I appreciate the opportunity to set the record straight.