By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Parole hearings will resume in Alabama in mid-May, per a supplemental emergency order from Gov. Kay Ivey issued Monday.
The order eases some of the restrictions set in Alabama statute about when and how parole hearings can be conducted as the state tries to limit person-to-person contact to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The bureau said in an emailed statement that the May 18 start date follows the 30-day notice required for properly notifying crime victims and others. Leadership had halted hearings almost a month ago.
“We very much appreciate the governor’s swift and decisive action that clears the way for the resumption of hearings,” director Charlie Graddick said. “This allows us to hold hearings while protecting the health and safety of crime victims, families, advocates, the members of the Board of Pardons and Paroles and bureau staff.
“This order also protects the rights of crime victims to have a 30-day notice of parole hearings and to have a chance to participate meaningfully in the hearings.”
Alabama law says the bureau is not allowed to hold meetings and deliberations through electronic communications, but the March 18th health order from Ivey states that any governmental body may take actions through telecommunications during the public health emergency.
Ivey said in an emailed statement that hearings will resume “in a manner that reduces person-to-person interaction.”
“The health, safety and well-being of all Alabamians is paramount during this evolving health pandemic,” Ivey said. “It is vitally important we keep Alabama’s criminal justice system functioning for the good of public safety. As we continue evaluating our efforts throughout this process, we have worked diligently to ensure efficiency and continuity of critical government services by allowing for virtual meetings. I appreciate the Board of Pardons and Paroles for collaborating with my office to ensure we continue their important work.”
The statement said any provision of Alabama law allowing individuals to appear in person at a meeting of the board is suspended.
According to information from the bureau, any official, crime victims or crime victim representative who received notice of an upcoming parole or pardon hearing can submit their view via a written statement. Minutes of the hearing will also be posted to the bureau’s website within 12 hours of the hearing.
The bureau came under criticism last week from at least one lawmaker and criminal justice advocates for delaying parole hearings. They argued that in order to mitigate the possible disastrous effects of an outbreak of COVID-19 in prisons, parole hearings should resume as soon as possible.
The ACLU of Alabama Director Randall Marshall said Monday that parole hearings need to start sooner than May 18.
“We are glad to see the governor and parole bureau move to resume parole hearings,” Marshall said. “However, the delay between now and May 18 leaves thousands of prisoners, corrections officers, and surrounding communities vulnerable to exposure and spread of COVID-19.”
There are currently no confirmed cases of COVID-19 among Alabama inmates as of Monday, according to the Alabama Department of Corrections. Forty-six inmates have been tested and 10 are awaiting results.
The bureau announced Monday that a parole officer has tested positive for COVID-19.
Bureau communications director Terry Abbott told ADN that because of privacy concerns, the agency was not revealing where the employee worked but said the officer “has not had any contact with parolees and probationers, except by phone, over the last two weeks.”
The bureau in early March suspended all in-person reporting for those currently on parole unless they are reporting for the first time.
There are more than 20,000 people being supervised by parole and probation officers throughout the state.
Abbott told ADN that officers will “continue to make home in-person visits to those parolees and probationers who are under intensive level supervision.” All other parolees will be reporting to their local field officers by phone during this time.