By SKIP TUCKER, Alabama Daily News Featured Columnist
Those two words are fraught with meaning for those who run badly afoul of the law, especially on a routine basis. For the habitually violent criminal, the words are heavy with nothing but trouble. He wrote Alabama’s Habitual Offender Act.
I know these things because I’ve worked two campaigns with Charlie Graddick. While I’ve worked many great campaigns with many great people. Graddick stands among the greatest.
Now a youthful 74, Graddidck has waged war on criminals for more years than Manson’s been in prison, first as a district attorney in Mobile then as Alabama Attorney General. Recently he retired from years as presiding judge over Mobile’s 13th Judicial Circuit.
Gov. Kay Ivey is putting him in charge of the troubled State Board of Pardons and Paroles. Don’t expect those to be handed out like candy for a while.
He’s of like mind to State Attorney Gen. Steve Marshall, who’s no candyman when it comes to dealing with hardened crime. One day Marshall might wear the word governor in front of his name. He fits the law and order mold. You heard it here.
It would be difficult to come up with tougher, more resolute group than Ivey, Marshall and Graddick. Their hearts beat as one in regard to being tough on crime and tougher on hardened criminals and very tough indeed on the criminally violent. It’s bad news for habitual criminals in Alabama.
The good news is that Graddick is fair minded. By and large, practically to exclusion, the innocent will remain so. Neither Graddick nor Marshall have had much truck with railroading anyone, if you will forgive a metaphor thoroughly mixed.
Such highminded ability should be welcome everywhere by everyone. It’s pretty to think so. As we speak, however, a rasping noise is heard. It’s the careless lib-left sharpening knives, ready to slice and dice ability and accountability in the names of self-service and wardheel politics.
They like the shoddy work being done by the Department of Pardons and Paroles, currently a smoldering dumpster fire which emits a stench ill enough to offend laws of the people and the nostrils of God.
Pardons and Paroles seemingly has opened a revolving door for unrepentant murderers, rapists and other such gentles and set them loose on the streets to prey again on the helpless, the defenseless, the innocent. That outfit enjoys slight statutory oversight and full discretion on all criminal cases outside capital offenses and split sentences.
Line up ten convicted Alabama felons. According to the department’s own statistics, three of the ten are on the streets right now due to shortshifted parole. Board rules and procedures say inmates convicted of a Class A felony must serve 85 percent of their sentence or 15 years, whichever comes first. That’s become another bad joke.
Alabama Corrections Commissioner Jefferson Dunn has said he isn’t happy with the system: “It’s almost like a revolving door. Inmates leave, they don’t have the skills they need to be successful on the outside, and they go back to what they know, which is usually what got them into prison in the first place.”
Recidivism – the tendency for a criminal to go back to jail – is said to be 30 percent in Alabama. Maybe. It depends on the period of review. Nationally, after three years on the outside, 36 percent go back inside. After five years, it leaps to about 70 percent. Within nine years of getting out of prison, 90 percent return. That’s scary as hell. It means and means absolutely that the American system of justice just isn’t working.
Victims of Crime and Leniency director Janette Grantham a while back told WSFA-TV, “They are paroling violent offenders every day and those inmates are coming up for parole early. When we get to where a life in the state of Alabama is not worth more than a five- or six-year sentence, what have we become?”
The VOCAL director feels the board has blood on its hands for its notorious 2018 mishandling of Jimmy O’Neal Spencer, a violent criminal who has spent the greater part of his life in prison. “He was listed as low to medium risk of re-offending,” said Grantham. He was paroled in January, nor were his victims notified.
Spencer was paroled to Jimmy Hale Mission in Birmingham. Three weeks later, he walked away. Reportedly, the shelter contacted Spencer’s parole officer without result. The convict was in the wind for months until he was charged in July with the murders of three people in Marshall County. Grantham reportedly said Pardons and Parole failed to put out a warrant for Spencer, or even an alert.
She said, “He came into contact with the law two times. Both times they contacted the Parole Board and never heard back. On July 13, he was in court in Marshall County at 10 a.m. They contacted the parole board and asked if they should keep him. All they knew was that he was out on parole and had committed another crime. They called the pardons and parole board and were told no comment. That day they found the three bodies, including a little 7-year-old boy. If Spencer had been kept that morning he wouldn’t have killed them that day.”
Since I started at the Mountain Eagle four decades ago, I’ve reported on horrendous murders, disasters and random violence enough to sicken. In Walker County you grow up on those things. Yet the Spencer episode might be the worst thing I’ve known. People shouldn’t stand for it.
The people won’t have to, much longer. I believe Marshall will lock up the vile and Graddick will keep them locked. Victims of violent lawbreakers will see the convicted spend just about every day of a just sentence sentence behind bars.
Jail bars were featured in Graddick’s first adventure into state politics when he ran for and was elected Alabama Attorney General, wherein he served 1979 – 1987. Graddick had one of the best political TV spots ever.
The ad opens with the camera close on Graddick’s face. He says he’ll slam the door shut on crime. The camera recedes to reveal him standing at the door of a prison cell. He says, “And keep it shut,” and clangs the doors closed. The ad was adopted by others. It’s said it elected three attorneys general in three other states.
It wasn’t simple sound and fury like many political ads. It was the essence of Charlie Graddick and still is. He’s tough on crime, always has been and always will be. An attribute is his ability to read the real person inside a situation. He can and will bend when it’s called for. He did it on occasion with the act he wrote.
I know, of my own knowledge, that Graddick’s fairminded. He goes by the letter of the law but sometimes employs a law’s width and depth, degree and latitude. Like an effective quarterback, he sees the field entire.
Should any of the wonderfully wise who subscribe to ADN know a criminal or any who own weakness to become criminals, read this to them. The probability is that they can’t read much. Give them fair warning. Right now, they have time to move to Chicago or someplace more conducive.
The climate for criminals in Alabama is definitely warming. It’s a bad time to be a bad person.
(Next week: Gauche Leaders Shoot The Moon.)