Possible changes to parolee education facility concern lawmakers 

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

Some Alabama lawmakers say they’re concerned about possible cuts to a parolee education program that state officials have touted as an example of success.

Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, told ADN he’d been informed by Alabama Board of Pardons and Parole staff that a “significant scale back” was planned for LifeTech Transition Center in Thomasville. Ward has been the lead lawmaker on efforts to reduce state prison crowding.

“I think eliminating (LifeTech) goes against fixing the problem,” Ward said. “You need more re-entry programs, not less.”

A statement by Pardons and Paroles to Alabama Daily News did not confirm changes to LifeTech, but said operations across the agency are being reviewed.

“The entire Bureau of Pardons and Paroles has been and continues to be closely evaluated,” the emailed statement on Friday said. “This includes LifeTech. Resources will be directed where they have the probability for best positive impact on public safety and on offender rehabilitation. This is an on-going process and it would be premature to say how much, if any, the Thomasville facility will be impacted.”

According to Paroles’ 2018 annual report, since 2006, 6,294 offenders have attended LifeTech.

“The program prides itself in being a model for offender rehabilitation in the state,” the report says. “The recidivism rate for graduates, over the past three years, is 13.02%, making the center one of the state’s most successful programs with the goal of reducing the number of prior offenders returning to prison.”

The statewide recidivism rate for men is 31%

Efforts to reduce recidivism in Alabama’s prison was a topic of this month’s Governor’s Study Group on Criminal Justice Policy and will likely be in 2020 legislation. The state is trying to avoid a Department of Justice lawsuit over prison conditions.

“If you really want to address our prison problem, we need to address our recidivism rate,” Ward said. 

Sen. Greg Albritton’s Senate district includes Thomasville. On Friday, he said he’s heard local concerns about potential cuts being initiated at LifeTech.

“I’m anxious to see the plans Pardons and Paroles have for restructuring and meeting the requirements of the federal government, including courts and Department of Justice,” Albritton said.

In this year’s General Fund budget, Albritton, the Senate General Fund budget committee chairman, added $1 million for security upgrades at LifeTech.

Thomasville Mayor Sheldon Day on Friday said security, including parolees occasionally walking away from the residential facility, have been the community’s major concern about it. Currently, there isn’t a fence around it, but one is planned, Day said.

“Overall, it’s been a great, positive facility,” Day said. “It creates jobs and changes lives.” 

Day said he talked to Pardons and Parole Executive Director Charlie Graddick on Friday.

“It’s not their desire to close the facility, but it’s their desire to look at future adaptations for it,” Day said, including possibly partnering with other state agencies.

The Coastal Alabama Community College website describes the LifeTech Institute in Thomasville as “an innovative new parolee transition program” and partnership between Pardons and Paroles and the college.

“The LifeTech Institute teaches life skills and technical skills to help parolees make the transition from prison to society,” according to the website. 

Earlier this week, Alabama Community College System Chancellor Jimmy Baker announced the educational and job placement services at LifeTech will now be operated by Ingram State Technical College.

“I’m confident that with the addition of Ingram’s experienced staff and instructors, LifeTech will continue to be a leading program in reducing recidivism in Alabama,” Baker said in a written statement.

Coastal Alabama Community College’s website describes 18-week programs in welding, building construction, small engine repair, horticulture and industrial maintenance.

 Housing and other components of the parole transition center are provided by the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles.

The Alabama Legislature allocated $2 million for LifeTech in the 2020 education budget.

Ward said that’s a “drop in the bucket” compared to other state corrections costs.

Graddick, a former Alabama Attorney General, was appointed by Gov. Kay Ivey as executive director of Pardons and Parole starting Sept. 1. Parole hearings were paused nearly two months by Graddick, who said victim notification laws were not being met, and resumed this week.

“People think that every inmate has the right to be considered for parole, they have the right to be calculated under a certain formula whether or not to be brought up to be considered for parole, but they’ve got to earn that parole right,” Graddick told reporters on Monday.