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Alabama parole grant rates see third consecutive monthly increase

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The rate at which incarcerated Alabamians are being granted release on parole increased in February for the third consecutive month according to new data from the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles.

Incarcerated Alabamians eligible for parole have been released at continually shrinking rates over the past six years, falling from a peak parole grant rate of 55% in 2017 to 8% in fiscal year 2023, which runs from October through September.

For the month of February, the latest monthly snapshot of parole data, eligible inmates were granted parole at a rate of 24%, the third consecutive monthly increase over January, December and November’s rates of 23%, 19% and 13%, respectively.

Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Parole Director Cam Ward said he was happy to see the grant rate increase over its previous record lows in the single digits, calling the current rates ideal.

“It’s a case-by-case basis, you can’t just put an arbitrary number on parole grant rates, but realistically, the mid-to-high 20s would be the spot you should be hitting at,” Ward told Alabama Daily News Tuesday.

“I think it’s a sustainable number, I think it’s good to see, I do like seeing people get second chances.”

Cam Ward has led the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles as director since 2020.

Ward also noted, based on internal data not yet publicly available, that the parole grant rate is likely to be higher in subsequent monthly reports.

As to the previous low parole grant rates which dropped to a monthly rate as low as 2% during fiscal year 2023, Ward attributed the shrinking number to a vacancy on the three-member Parole Board that lasted months, leading to eligible inmates being denied parole with just one no vote.

In total, the Parole Board held 273 parole hearings in February, granting parole to 66 inmates and denying parole to 207. 

While the third consecutive monthly increase, the latest parole grant rate was still significantly lower than the board’s recommended grant rate for the month of 78%, which is based on a rating criteria adopted by the board in 2020.

Ward said that while that recommended grant rate was not a meaningless number, the rate it regularly produced was hardly realistic and unlikely to ever be achieved.

“The three-member board has to actually submit every couple years new guidelines to follow, that came about in several pieces of legislation years ago,” Ward told ADN. 

“I think the (recommended) rate said like 80% should be paroled; nowhere in the history of Alabama has parole been 80%, but I think it’s fair to look at.”

Broken down by ethnicity, white inmates were nearly twice as likely to be granted parole in February as their Black counterparts, with white inmates being granted parole at a rate of 27% compared to Black inmates’ 14%. Hispanic inmates were granted parole at 29% in February.

Based on the risk assessment of an inmate, very high-risk inmates were granted parole at the lowest rate in February at 5%, whereas moderate-risk inmates were granted parole at the highest rate at 24%. 

Low-risk inmates were granted parole in February at a rate of 19%, a rate lower than moderate risk inmates, an anomaly that has been highlighted in a class action lawsuit against the state over its inmate labor system. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit allege that low risk inmates were being denied parole due to their value as inmate laborers, who the Alabama Department of Corrections contracts out to private entities, including fast food chains like McDonald’s and Burger King.

For the entirety of the current fiscal year, the Parole Board has granted parole at an average rate of 20%, a dramatic increase over 2023’s rate of 8%, and an increase over the average rates in 2022 and 2021.

While pleased with the latest figures, Ward noted he had no input on the parole grant rate, and was more focused on his agency’s new partnership with Reentry 2030, a national initiative aimed at reducing recidivism.

The goal, Ward said, was to reduce Alabama’s recidivism rate by half by 2030, which would place the state squarely in the top five states nationally in terms of having the lowest recidivism rates.

Since announcing the partnership last October, Ward told ADN that 15 corporations have partnered with the state to provide job training for and hire Alabamians released on parole, and that state lawmakers provided his agency with adequate funding to make a good head start on the initiative.

“We have committed that we will reduce our recidivism; we’re currently at 25th in the country, we have a 29% recidivism rate, and I want to go from 29% to under 15% in the next five years,” Ward told ADN. 

“If we do that, we would be in the top five in the country. If you get a job, you almost never go back to prison. It’s a three-legged stool; reentry involves drug treatment, mental health and jobs, if you get all three, you almost never go back.”

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