The Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles is the state agency that supervises and rehabilitates adult criminal offenders released back into the general public. The primary mission of the agency is to investigate, supervise, and provide surveillance services to foster rehabilitation of adult criminal offenders with the goal of reducing recidivism, or reoffending, to promote community safety. The agency consists of a three-person board, an executive staff, front-line parole and probation officers, and supporting offices that all work together for community protection. The agency is headquartered in Montgomery, Montgomery County.
Prior to 1897, the only means for any person in prison or jail in Alabama to be released prior to the set date given at sentencing was if the governor granted a pardon or restored a prisoner’s civil and political rights and absolved them of their conviction. In 1897, legislation was approved, later to be included in the state Constitution of 1901, allowing the governor to release a prisoner or jailed person prior to the set date given at sentencing, an act known as parole.
In 1935, Gov. David Bibb Graves created the Alabama Parole Bureau, which consisted of a chairman, associate member, secretary, and parole officer. The bureau’s task was to study the progress of prisoners being held and recommend to the governor prisoners who were good candidates to undergo test parole. During a test parole, inmates were freed earlier than their scheduled release dates and then evaluated for their ability to remain law abiding. In 1939, the constitution was amended, eliminating the governor’s ability to grant any prisoner a pardon or parole and giving that authority to the legislature. Lawmakers then formed the three-member State Board of Pardons and Paroles. This board was given complete control and authority over prisoner (including those in jails) pardons and paroles and the collection of fines and forfeitures related to crimes. In addition, the board appointed 13 probation and parole officers. This legislation also authorized adult probation in the state and allowed judges to offer probation as an alternative to sending a person to prison.
The Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles consists of a chairman and two associate members appointed by the governor and an executive staff consisting of the executive director and two assistant executive directors. The board has several primary duties. It determines which offenders in jail or prison are eligible for parole. It sets the conditions of parole and monitors offenders in the community to determine whether they are in compliance with those conditions. Moreover, it determines if any conditions have been violated and whether the individual should return to jail or prison or have their parole revoked. The executive staff organizes and arranges cases to be brought before the board. Additionally, the staff develops and revises procedural manuals and forms documenting the official activities of the department, inmates, parolees, and the public related to parole and pardon requests and procedures. The board has one central office in downtown Montgomery and at least one probation and parole field office in 61 of Alabama’s 67 counties. Heavily populated Jefferson County, for example, has field offices in Birmingham and Bessemer. Smaller counties are often served by field offices in a larger neighboring county.
The board considers four factors that typically determine an individual’s risk for committing other crimes and form a basis for early release, or parole. It looks at whether the person has strong family ties; a strong likelihood of employment; a likeliness to comply with their probation officer; and whether being released from prison will reduce the likelihood of recidivism. In addition to parole decisions, the board also grants pardons. This is the act of restoring civil and political rights, such as voting rights, to offenders who are considered rehabilitated and have provided good evidence that they will become productive and law-abiding citizens. The board sets the conditions of parole, whereas county judges set the conditions of probation. Probation and parole officers then supervise offenders in the community, watch for any violations, and report violations to the board and the court system. Officers also assist their charges in accessing community-based organizations for substance abuse treatment, anger management, mental health services, job-readiness programs, life-skills programming, and other community services.
Another duty of the Board of Pardons and Paroles is to notify victims of violent crimes as well as abuse if an inmate is being granted a pardon or being paroled. Under Alabama law, victims have the right to be present at parole hearings and to express written objections to parole. Probation and parole officers must also include a victim impact statement as part of investigative reports for the board in consideration of granting parole for an offender or for a judge in consideration for sentencing a person to probation.
Probation and Parole Officers
Probation and parole officers are sworn law enforcement officers with arresting powers whose primary duties are to supervise and provide services to probationers and parolees. Similar to probation and parole officers throughout the country, officers in Alabama are required to have graduated from an accredited four-year college or university. They must possess physical skills, such as the ability to walk and run, be able to use and care for firearms, and be able to communicate orally and in writing. Probation and parole officers in the state must also meet the standards of the Alabama Peace Officers’ Standards and Training Commission and graduate from a 13-week police academy.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Alabama’s prisoner population grew rapidly, as it did in other states, as a result of the so-called “War on Drugs” and because of mandatory minimum sentencing laws that incarcerated a large number of nonviolent drug users and sellers in prison with lengthy terms. Prisons soon became overwhelmed by the number of incarcerated persons, and many were released from prisons on parole or sentenced to community supervision on probation. This growth has prompted a need for more probation and parole officers and better training in rehabilitation services for offenders.
By far, one of the biggest accomplishments of the Board of Pardons and Paroles has been aiding the Alabama Department of Corrections in supervising thousands of persons in the community who otherwise would be imprisoned. But this has also become one its biggest challenges. Pardons and Paroles primarily receives funding from the state, including the state’s Justice Reinvestment fund, the federal Department of Justice, and statutory monitoring fees paid by offenders. Yet, funding remains insufficient to cover the needed number of officers to meet the national caseload standard of 75 offenders to one officer or even the Alabama ideal caseload standard of one officer to 100 offenders. Presently, there are approximately 250 probation and parole officers throughout the state. The number of officers may rise in the coming years to meet the board’s goal.