Only a fraction of the Alabama inmates that had been found eligible for a supervised early release under a 2021 sentencing reform law were allowed to leave prison on Tuesday, Jan. 31, due to the Alabama Department of Corrections’ failure to notify the victims and their families.
A law originally passed in 2015, states that prisoners would be released anywhere from 3 months to one year in advance of their scheduled release date and complete the duration of their sentence under the supervision of the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles. Originally, only inmates who had been convicted after that law went into effect would be eligible for release, but Alabama legislatures amended the law in 2021 to state that that would extend the policy to all inmates once it went into effect on Tuesday.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall — a vocal opponent of the bill in 2021 — filed a lawsuit against the ADOC and the ADPP on Jan. 30, claiming that the ADOC had failed to meet the requirement that a victim and/or their family be notified prior to an inmates release.
In the suit, Marshall claimed that less than 20 victims had been notified and requested that a 10-day restraining order put in place to allow the department time to notify the remaining victims.
“Because ADOC has not fulfilled its lawful duty to notify victims of their offender’s early release from prison and cannot fulfill this duty by January 31, 2023, ADOC cannot lawfully release, and the Board of Pardons and Paroles cannot lawfully accept, more than half of those inmates set to be released early,” Marshall wrote in the lawsuit filed in Montgomery Circuit Court.
Montgomery Circuit Judge Jimmy Pool denied Marshall’s request and dismissed the suit with AODC Commissioner John Hamm giving his assurance that no inmate who had committed a violent crime — those convicted of victimless crimes are eligible without notification being sent — would be released without victim notification.
Instead, Hamm agreed to the compromise of releasing inmates on a rolling basis as the department is able to make contact. Only a quarter of the nearly 400 inmates — 13 of which were from Cullman County — were granted their scheduled release on Tuesday.
If the AODC is unable to locate or contact a victim or family member, they will request assistance from local district attorneys.
Requests sent to both the AODC and the Attorney General’s office for comment were not responded to by press time.