By CAROLINE BECK and MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The embattled Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles will have a new governor-appointed director in September, and could have a new chairperson just as soon.
Gov. Kay Ivey announced Friday that Charlie Graddick is her pick to become executive director of the nearly 600-employee state agency. The new law allowing Ivey to unilaterally make the appointment goes into effect Sept. 1.
The new law also allows Ivey also appoint the three Pardons and Paroles Board members from a pool of nominees submitted by the lieutenant governor, the speaker of the House and the president pro tem of the Senate. The term for Board Chairperson Lyn Head expired on June 30, and Lt. Gov. Ainsworth said the intent is to fill the seat before Sept. 1.
Head told Alabama Daily News that she “absolutely” wants to keep the job and has discussed that possibility with Ivey. Though her term has expired, board members can keep serving until they’re replaced or reappointed.
“So I am basically serving at the request of the governor right now, but without being officially appointed,” Head said.
Asked if any current board members could keep their positions, a spokeswoman for Ivey said, “all options remain on the table for new appointments.”
During the 2018 legislative session, Ivey and Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall pushed for a law overhauling the Pardons and Paroles governance structure and codifying its policies. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Connie Rowe, R-Jasper, and Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, was meant to make the Pardons and Paroles Board more accountable as a state agency.
“It’s no different than in some ways what a judge does in hearing cases – to give them the ability to prepare and fully vet those who come up for a pardon,” Marshall said. “So what I think we have accomplished is a fresh start.”
Marshall said he believed it was important for the new Pardons and Paroles leadership to make public safety the top priority and implement policies already enacted by the Legislature to improve the ratio of officers to parolees.
“Public safety has to be their priority,” Marshall said. “We had a meeting recently. The governor, who has been very much a champion with us in this regard, asked a very direct question to the board itself, ‘what do you feel like your role is?’ And one of the comments we heard was to make sure the prison population doesn’t get too high. That’s not their function. That’s not their role. In fact, that’s nowhere in the statute.”
Changes to Pardons and Paroles were 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.
Ainsworth, who is from Guntersville, said he is eager to see changes and will soon meet to discuss the pool of board nominees to submit to the governor.
“One of the questions I’m going to ask any of these (possible appointees) is, how are you going to make sure this never happens again?” Ainsworth said.
Graddick is a former Alabama attorney general, Mobile County district attorney, gubernatorial candidate and Mobile circuit judge. In 2012, he ran as a Republican for Alabama Chief Justice and lost in the primary to Roy Moore. His appointment came with criticism from prisoner advocacy groups.
Ebony Howard, a senior supervising attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center said that Graddick’s appointment is concerning to those who want to reduce the overcrowding problems in the state’s prisons given Graddick’s past comments and commitment to being tough on crime.
“Graddick has repeatedly shown a callous disregard for the humanity of Alabamians who have made mistakes but deserve opportunities to rehabilitate themselves and rejoin their families,” Howard said in a statement.
“We are hopeful, however, that if his appointment goes through and he is seated that he will immediately recognize the need to safely reduce the population of Alabama’s prisons and increase paroles in the system.”
Graddick said in 2013 during talks over sentencing reform as a way to cut back prison populations, that any kind of reform would likely never work since “a lot of criminals today are recidivists, and they know how to work the system, and they know what the system means.”
Head also opposed the legislation changing the agency’s leadership, saying in an email it was “under attack.”