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Ivey fills vacant seat on parole board with department director

Gov. Kay Ivey has appointed Gabrelle Simmons to the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles, filling a seat on the three-member board that’s been vacant since late-June, a spokesperson confirmed with Alabama Daily News.

One of five candidates presented to Ivey, Simmons has worked with the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles for nearly 20 years, starting in 2004 as a probation and parole officer. Her most recent title was director of board operations, overseeing preparation for all parole, pardon and restoration of voting  considerations by the board.

Simmons is also a realtor with Kelly Realty out of Montgomery, and is a graduate of Auburn University, receiving a bachelor’s degree in both public safety and psychology and justice, and a master’s in psychology.

The three-person parole board has been sporadically missing a member since November 2022, when then-member Dwayne Spurlock began missing parole board meetings to care for an ill family member, 1819 News reported. Spurlock resigned in December 2022, and was replaced in March with Kim Davidson, who went on to serve out the remainder of Spurlock’s term through late June.

Davidson’s then-vacant seat would remain vacant however for two months, as the governor can only make appointments to the board from a selection of candidates provided by a three-member legislative body consisting of House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, Senate President Greg Reed, R-Jasper, and Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth. That body did not present that list until mid-August.

Given that a majority vote is required for an inmate to be granted parole, the board’s vacancy had a significant effect on parole grant rates, which dropped to 4.1% in July following Davidson’s departure.

Parole board Chair Leigh Gwathney has defended the shrinking parole grant rates, as has Attorney General Steve Marshall and other lawmakers, who point to an increase in the number of violent offenders in Alabama’s prison system. Critics of the shrinking rates label them as just another failure of the state’s prison system, which is currently under threat of a federal takeover due to alleged inhumane conditions.

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