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Alabama’s parole grant rate increases dramatically

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Halfway into the 2024 fiscal year, the rate at which the Alabama Board of Pardons and Parole is granting parole to eligible inmates has reached its highest point since 2020, according to a new report.

While the parole board has not adopted any new guidelines that would give reason for the increase, plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the state regarding its inmate labor program argue the increased parole grant rate to be the result of mounting legal pressure and scrutiny on the board.

As of March, the average monthly parole rate stood at more than 19%, a significant increase over the rate in 2023 of 8%, and rates of 10% and 15% in 2022 and 2021, respectively.

When compared to the first six months of fiscal year 2023, which had an average parole grant rate of just 6%, the parole grant rate during the first six months of the current fiscal year more than tripled.

Having declined for years from a high of 55% in 2017, the state’s shrinking parole grant rates have been named by critics as a significant contributor to Alabama’s prison crowding. 

The Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles parole grant rate from FY-2015 to FY-2023.

Alabama’s prisons are roughly 7,000 inmates over design capacity, which itself has led to rising instances of prison violence.

The board spokesperson did not respond Friday to a request for comment on the recent increase in paroles.

In the lawsuit against the state regarding its prison labor program, plaintiffs – represented by Attorney Lauren Faraino – allege that the parole board operates discriminatorily, and is in part motivated to deny parole to ensure an adequate supply of prison labor.

While the plaintiffs faced a setback this month when their preliminary injunction request was denied in federal court, a request that would have forced the board to adopt an earlier version of its parole guidelines, Faraino told Alabama Daily News  she and her clients already view the suit “as a victory for a number of reasons.”

“This case is already having an effect on the parole board’s practices, as the board is aware of increased scrutiny,” Faraino said.

“Since the filing of this lawsuit in early December, the parole rate has nearly quadrupled from what it was before. It’s not where it needs to be yet, but it shows that the sunshine brought to this dark corner of Alabama’s parole board’s operation is starting to work.”

In total, the parole board held 1,437 hearings since the beginning of the current fiscal year in October, granting parole to 282 inmates and denying parole to 1,155.

The board granted parole to eligible white inmates at a rate of 26%, Hispanic inmates at a rate of 29%, and black inmates at a rate of 14%.

The disparity between parole grant rates of white and black inmates, a central component in the lawsuit, has grown when compared to 2023. 

In fiscal year 2023, white inmates were granted parole at a rate of 10% compared to 7% for black inmates. The current racial disparity is less than fiscal year 2022, where white inmates were granted parole at a rate of 14% compared to 7% for black inmates.

Another major component of the lawsuit is the rate at which inmates are granted parole based on their risk assessment. 

In the suit, plaintiffs allege that the board’s decisions are motivated in part by maintaining an adequate supply of prison labor, and base their allegation on data that shows low-risk inmates being granted parole less than moderate-risk inmates.

Halfway through the current fiscal year, that trend has continued, with low-risk inmates being granted parole at a rate of 19% compared to 24% for moderate-risk inmates. This represents a growing disparity when compared to 2023 where low-risk inmates were granted parole at a rate of 8% compared to 11% for moderate-risk inmates.

Janet Herold, legal director of Justice Catalyst Law and legal counsel for the plaintiffs, said last week that despite the denial of the preliminary injunction request, she believes there is still a path for success in their suit.

“With the helpful roadmap provided by the Court, we are confident that through discovery, we can gather the evidence to show that Alabama’s parole board since 2020 has denied parole and extended sentences compared to any point in the last 50 years, and specifically and intentionally denied parole to black Alabamians,” Herold said in a statement.

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