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Pardons and Paroles prepares for electronic monitoring

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

The Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles is preparing to electronically monitor several hundred recently released parolees under a 2021 law.

A recent pilot program is ABPP’s first foray into remote monitoring. In the next fiscal year, ABPP has $4.2 million to monitor parolees under a new mandatory supervision law that goes into effect Jan. 1, 2023. 

Cam Ward, ABPP director, said the agency has proposals from two vendors to provide equipment and monitoring and should be ready by fall to begin surveillance. Ward last month told a panel of lawmakers at the State House he thought the agency could monitor about 125 people with the funding it was given. Ward recently updated those estimates.

“We could probably do up to 300 at a time, but in any given one year, several hundred (more) people could be monitored,” he said.

House Bill 2 in special session last year made a 2015 law requiring mandatory supervision of released inmates retroactive to those convicted before that date. It also requires electronic monitoring for supervised release, as determined by a risk assessment.

Ward said state statute allows ABPP to monitor people for varying amounts of time — from weeks to months — depending on their risk assessment.

Ward said the most expensive part of monitoring parolees will be paying ABPP staff to arrest violators late at night or early in the morning. The agency currently isn’t a 24/7 operation, but will need some staff overnight once monitoring begins. When people violate conditions of their parole, they are immediately arrested to serve out the remainder of their sentences.

Alabama’s recidivism rate, the frequency the previously incarcerated committee new crimes within three years of release, is about 30%. It’s higher for some groups.

“Our highest risk is homeless sex offenders,” Ward said. “They will get monitored longer than anyone else.” 

Homeless sex offenders don’t necessarily violate parole through new sex crimes, Ward said, but because they’re homeless “and trying to live.” Poverty and drug abuse may be factors, he said.

Rep. Jim Hill, R-Moody, sponsored the 2021 bill. 

“We’re talking about public safety and keeping up with people recently released from prison,” Hill said. “Statistics tell us that that first year is crucial, we need to monitor individuals when they are released.” 

Hill said the benefit of early release is that it allows ABPP to monitor parolees, as opposed to allowing people at the end of their sentences to leave prison “without any strings” or supervision.

“I think that’s a mistake,” said Hill, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and former St. Clair County circuit court judge.

“The purpose of the early release is so there can be some monitoring,” he said.

He said last week he’d be in favor of more money for electronic monitoring, should Ward need it.

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