By TODD STACY and CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Charles Graddick will soon resign as director of the Bureau of Pardons and Paroles, the governor’s office confirmed Monday.
Alabama Daily News first reported Graddick’s imminent departure Monday after multiple sources confirmed it. Later, the governor’s office responded with the letter of resignation from Graddick, dated Monday but made effective Nov. 30.
In the letter, Graddick said that since his appointment “dramatic changes and transformations of the agency has been accomplished” and that the bureau “is in a much better condition today, with greatly improved morale and more productive work culture [sic].”
Graddick was appointed as director after a 2018 reform law was enacted to reshape the agency and give Gov. Kay Ivey more direct oversight. Before, the Board of Pardons and Paroles picked its own director, which led a department with vague administrative oversight. The new law gave the governor the authority to appoint the director, with confirmation by the Senate, as well as the ability to remove that person from the job. The reform law was spurred in part 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.
“When I asked Judge Graddick to take on the Herculean task of turning around the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles, Charlie told me he would give it his all,” Ivey said in a written statement today. “And without question, Judge Graddick has laid a solid foundation by focusing on rebuilding staff morale, improving field operations and upgrading the equipment and technology that our Pardons and Paroles employees need to more effectively and efficiently do their jobs.
“While more can and will be done to improve all aspects of the important mission of the Bureau, Judge Graddick has informed me that he feels Pardons and Paroles is in a good place to hand over these responsibilities to a new leadership team…”
Graddick is a former Alabama attorney general, Mobile County district attorney, gubernatorial candidate and Mobile circuit judge, and well known for his consistent tough-on-crime stance. His appointment to lead Pardons and Paroles was meant as a shakeup to a state agency that had lost confidence among many state leaders. During Graddick’s first days on the job, he placed three top staff members on leave and shortly after halted all parole hearings for two months citing concerns about victim notification.
His appointment also came with criticism from prisoner advocacy groups and criminal justice advocates. Some described his leadership style as a “bull in a China shop,” running roughshod over both career and appointed staff. This has come during a sensitive time for the Ivey administration as it attempts to move forward with a plan to enter build-and-lease contracts for three new state prisons all while continuing to navigate lawsuits regarding current prisons’ crowding and violence problems.
Alabamians for Fair Justice, a pro-reform coalition that includes the ACLU of Alabama, Alabama Arise and the Southern Poverty Law Center, issued a statement critical of Graddick’s tenure
“Since Mr. Graddick took over as director of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Parole in September 2019, 618 of 3,123, or 20%, of parole hearings granted a release,” the statement said. “This is in sharp contrast to the 3,732 people granted parole and 54% grant rate in fiscal year 2018 – the year immediately preceding Mr. Graddick’s appointment as director. Under Mr. Graddick’s leadership, Alabama’s parole system has essentially ground to a halt, leaving many people languishing in the state’s overcrowded, understaffed and dangerous prisons in direct opposition to the recommendations cited in the U.S. Department of Justice investigative report.”
Graddick maintained that Pardons and Paroles was not meant to help ease the prison system’s problems. Press releases from his office often highlight the number of violent offenders who were denied parole with details of their crimes and actions while in prison.
Graddick said during one press conference that early release for inmates was not a right, but that they had a right to be calculated under the state’s formula of who should be considered for parole.
Criminal justice groups have continually criticized the board’s record this year of having the lowest amount of parole hearings and the fewest parole grants in the state’s history.
A report from the Equal Justice Initiative said that from 1987 through 2018, the parole board held on average 6,566 hearings each year. But in 2019, the board held just 4,270 parole hearings. The prison population in 1987 was also about half its current size.
The board also suspended all hearings in early March of this year when concerns about COVID-19 began spreading in the state and didn’t resume until mid-May. In-person parole hearings are still not being held and instead, all statements for or against the inmate can be submitted to the agency via a written statement.
Ivey said Graddick’s last day would be Nov. 30. A timeline for replacing Graddick has not been announced.