By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – New Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles director Charlie Graddick said it will take weeks for the board to resume parole hearings after they were postponed last week amid claims that prior leadership was not complying with victim notification standards.
A spokesman for pardons and paroles said the victim-notification problems may be just “the tip of the iceberg” for issues with previous leadership and that the victim notification standards are still trying to be understood by new leadership.
“There are tweaks and nuances that have yet to be addressed and it’s more of an overall fabric of bringing the whole agency in compliance with the new law,” Skip Tucker, the agency’s news director, told Alabama Daily News.
According to an emailed statement, the agency must notify victims 30-days prior to parole hearings in accordance with the new law signed in June.
“The Board of Operations division is unable to assure me that the docket complies with the law,” Graddick said in the statement. “Last week we had to postpone 113 hearings. We’ll resume parole hearings as soon as we’re sure legal requirements have been met.”
Tucker said that the agency is currently trying to figure out how expansive the problem of victim notification has been within the agency.
“The main thing is to ensure that these victims are notified,” Tucker said. “There could be hundreds of questionable situations where we are unsure of who knows what and who’s been notified. We’re just trying to get a grip on it right now.”
The emailed statement on Monday said that the bureau is now working on trying to confirm victim contact information.
“We’re working hard to learn if the dockets pass muster legally,” Graddick said in the statement. “It could mean notifying up to 700 people. Addresses must be verified. It’s going to take weeks.”
Tucker couldn’t give an exact estimate of how many more parole hearings would be postponed in the coming weeks but said it is the agency’s main priority to resume the hearings as soon as the legal requirements for the new law have been met.
“Judge Graddick wants this system up and running as it should be and it hasn’t been for who knows how long, and there is so much out of whack it’s going to take a while to see if anything is in-whack,” Tucker said.
Former executive director of the board Eddie Cook, former assistant executive director Chris Norman and former director of personnel Belinda Johnson were all placed on mandatory leave by Graddick last week. Disciplinary hearings will be conducted regarding their job performance, last week’s statement said.
The new law referenced in the statement from Graddick is House Bill 380, sponsored by Rep. Connie Rowe, R-Jasper, that allows the governor to appoint the executive leadership of the agency with confirmation by the Senate. Graddick started his job Sept. 1.
The new law allows the governor to select board members from a group of nominees chosen by the speaker of the house, lieutenant governor and senate president pro tem.
The legislation, which was backed by Ivey and State Attorney General Steve Marshall was meant to make pardons and paroles more accountable as a state agency, supporters said.
The agency came under scrutiny after Jimmy O’Neal Spencer, who was serving a life sentence and then paroled, killed three people in Guntersville in July 2018. That led Ivey to issue a moratorium on early paroles and later the state agreed to a $1 million settlement with the victims’ families.
To reach Caroline Beck, follow her on Twitter @CarolineBeckADN or email her at Caroline@aldailynews.com.