Cam Ward

New Pardon & Parole Director a Reformer: Q&A with Director Cam Ward

For the past 10 years, Cam Ward served in the Alabama Senate, emerging as an influential figure as chair of the Judiciary Committee, which provides oversight over many criminal justice concerns.

On Dec. 7, he stepped down from the state Senate and was sworn in as the new director of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles, an embattled body that has had five different directors over the past nine years.

Ward arrives at the bureau at a particularly fraught time in its history. The BPP has been under intense scrutiny in recent months for granting parole to a relatively small percentage of prisoners as COVID-19 has raged through prisons across the state.

As Latonya Tate, founder and executive director of the Alabama Justice Initiative, pointed out earlier this month, the parole board granted parole in just 20% of cases since July, a precipitous drop-off from the 2017-18 fiscal year, when the board granted parole in 54% of cases. But on Nov. 30, Charlie Graddick, a former circuit judge, stepped down after about 16 months as director of the Bureau of Pardons and Paroles, creating the vacancy that Ward has since filled.

In state politics, Ward, a Republican who represented Shelby County, was a fixture in criminal justice reform debates, often serving as a dissenting voice on punitive approaches to law enforcement.

In a wide-ranging interview with AL.com Tuesday morning, Ward addressed that legacy, discussed his vision for his new role and shared his hopes for the future of criminal justice reform in Montgomery.

The following conversation has been edited for clarity and length:

AL.com: Congratulations on the new job. How will your senate seat be filled and when does that happen?

Ward: Thank you. The governor dictates that. What happens is they’ll have a special election – the primary’s March 30, and then the general election will be sometime in early summer or late spring.

AL.com: How did you decide to take the job with the Bureau of Pardons and Paroles?

Ward: I had talked a lot with [Gov. Kay Ivey and her staff] about corrections, pardons and parole, so it just kind of evolved into that. This was before Judge Graddick announced he was leaving. But we had had conversations about my vision, what we could do to fix this and make it better, and just kind of a vision for what we could do for the whole criminal justice system.

The governor’s chief of staff and other staff members, after the resignation occurred, called and I sat down and met with them and then the governor sat down and met with me and offered me the position, and I accepted right away.

I was in the legislature for 19 years, but the longer I served, the more all of my focus ended up being on criminal justice. And so, it was just a very natural fit for me, and I saw it as a great opportunity to keep focusing on criminal justice and it was the issue I cared about the most anyway.

AL.com: What’s important to you about the Bureau of Pardons and Paroles and what kind of a difference do you hope to make there?

Ward: I think my vision is we need to get back to what our core foundation is, and that is public safety is first, but we can accomplish public safety through proper re-entry. Rehabilitation is the way to achieve public safety. When you look at the criminal justice system, it’s not just one agency … it’s the entire system, and I think we play a key part of that, but I think our biggest role is how do we help people re-enter society so they’re not a threat to public safety.

AL.com: Can you talk a bit about the role the Bureau of Pardons and Paroles plays in re-entry and rehabilitation?

Ward: We have rehab opportunities outside the facilities. A good example is what’s called [the] Life Tech [Center]. Life Tech was a re-entry program, which was run and operated by Pardons and Paroles. If you weren’t in [Department of Corrections] custody anymore, but you were going back into society, Life Tech provided rehabilitation for substance abuse, mental health, but it also provided job training skills.

That was eliminated in the administration before me. I am going to reopen that facility – it’s in Thomasville, Alabama – to refocus again on offering more and more rehabilitation-type programs for people re-entering society.

AL.com: Does the Bureau of Pardons and Paroles have direct influence over those types of re-entry programs?

Ward: The Legislature has to sign off on the budget, but I’ve been working closely with several members of the Legislature to enact that vision that reentry and rehabilitation in the long run reduces crime, reduces recidivism, and provides healthier members of society.

Life Tech is run and operated by [the BPP], but now you also have Ingram State Technical College, which provides prison education programs for those inside the correctional system. But also, in the past we had Life Tech, which provided job training programs for those who are on parole. Why don’t we expand upon that, increase those opportunities? We’re paying pennies on the dollar to make sure somebody doesn’t come back into prison. [BPP] can do that internally, in fact I’ve already started on that.

AL.com: What do you intend to do differently than has been the case at Pardons and Paroles in recent years and months? There has been a lot of criticism of the decreased rate of cases in which parole has been granted in recent years.

Ward: In fairness to the board, you can’t look at the rate of release in a spreadsheet format. People want to put a spreadsheet down and go, ‘Well, this year the number is this, this year the number is that, and now this year the number is this.’ You can’t look at it through that lens, because, one, the [prison] population has changed a lot. The violent population has increased dramatically, and that’s probably due to the reform legislation we did in 2013 and 2015. That decreased the nonviolent population, so the number of people who are eligible for parole has decreased. So to blame the board solely for that by looking at spreadsheet numbers is unfair to the board.

The numbers have gone up on our number of paroles granted in just the last few weeks, which is good. But you’ve got to provide the board with the docket numbers. If they’ve got a small docket, there’s not a lot of people to choose from.

We’ve had 34 paroles over the last few days, and that compared to the rest of the year is a lot. I’m going to tell you that’s a dramatic increase in paroles granted over just the last few days.

It’s easy to blame the board because they have to make the final vote but if they’re only getting a small volume to choose from, it’s not fair to them. And there is a population that’s not eligible, so don’t put them on the docket.

AL.com: So you’re saying, because a lot of people were already paroled or released early because of this legislation, then the pool of people who can be released on parole is a lot smaller?

Ward: Right, the pool you’re choosing from is much smaller. There is a population, and I’ve talked to the legislature about this. This is a big issue. There is a segment [in the prisons] that was convicted under the Habitual Offender Act.

If you were convicted before 2015 of certain crimes three times, you automatically got life without parole. But if you were convicted after 2015, with several of those crimes it’s not life without parole. I tried to get legislation passed to address that … That needs to be addressed but that’s up to the legislature, not us.

AL.com: The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified criticism of low rates of paroles being granted. Do you see opportunities for more medical parole, or ankle monitoring, or ways to release older people or people who are sick or at risk of contracting coronavirus?

Ward: I’m going to make a request to increase funding for ankle monitoring – actually it really isn’t ankle monitoring now it’s remote tracking – you have ankle monitors and now you have wrists too almost with like a Fitbit watch or an Apple Watch. On the medical, it requires the legislature to change the law to increase medical parole eligibility.

I think there’s a segment of the population out there that’s geriatric that medically should be eligible. But again, the Legislature’s going to make the law and we’re going to follow the law and enforce it however they tell us to.

AL.com: Do you worry about the Senate losing your institutional knowledge and your role regarding criminal justice in this state? There aren’t many other senators who are so focused on these issues. And, for instance, it seems like your influence was one of the only reasons why we don’t have private prisons in this state, that type of thing – do you worry about losing that in the Legislature?

Ward: There will be someone who steps into my shoes, and there will be someone who steps into the next shoes. There will always be someone who comes along, and I know this from my colleagues who I served with, Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate – there are a lot of people who have passion about this, they want to do it, and I have no doubt they’re going to step up to the plate.

Unfortunately for the state, [the U.S. Department of Justice] and the federal courts have put us in a spot where we have to do something, but I have no doubt – there are leaders who are stepping up right now, who’ve called me, we’ve talked, and they want to do something about fixing this. And they’re great, they’re going to do a good job.

You’ve got Rep. [Jim] Hill [R-Moody], chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, taking a keen interest. We have members of the senate judiciary committee who have the interest and I think you have the leadership there to get this done, to fix this problem so we can get out from this haze we’re under with the Department of Corrections and the correctional system as a whole. Pardon and Paroles is every bit as much a part of the situation as DOC. … While DOC is named as the lawsuit defendant, we’re all part of fixing the problem.

AL.com: Do you worry that someone with a different mindset from you could come in and take a different approach to issues like criminal justice reform than you did?

Ward: No, I’ve been in politics long enough to know that it’s cyclical. Yeah, there’ll be some folks that don’t like the way I looked at things the way I looked at things and there are others who do, but someone always steps up to the plate when we need them.

Unfortunately, the headlines always focus on those who did bad or did something wrong or said something stupid. But at the end of the day there are a lot of people who keep their head down and get the real work done. And I’ve had total confidence in some of the people I’ve talked to, and still talk to, about what needs to be done. I really feel like we’ve got some members who are going to step up to the plate.

AL.com: What else do you see as your legacy regarding criminal justice issues from your time in the Legislature?

Ward: I guess, as a senator, my legacy was I took on the issue of criminal justice reform, and it wasn’t politically popular, but it was definitely the right thing to do. And I have no doubt in my mind that despite the criticism, my convictions tell me I was right to do that.

I hope to continue doing that in this new role. I think there’s a way to fix our criminal justice and make it not only that we increase public safety, but we also give people a second chance in life and society. And my faith and my convictions drive me to that thought.

AL.com: What are your thoughts on Ivey’s prison construction plan, and do you intend to have a role in that process going forward?

Ward: I actually handled the bill for two years in a row to get the Legislature to do the construction. Construction by itself does not fix the system. It does, however, play a part in it, in that if you want to increase mental health rehabilitation, if you want to increase substance abuse rehabilitation, if you want to introduce better programming and education, you’ve got to have new facilities. I can’t see Pardons and Paroles having a role in deciding where they’re built or any of that. But construction of new prisons does play a role in fixing the problems because you’ve got to have more programming space. But where they’re built at and all that, that’s the governor’s decision.

AL.com: Any final thoughts or takeaways?

Ward: I think the biggest takeaway for me is this: In the last nine years we’ve had five directors in this agency. I want to bring stability, and I want to focus, again, on re-entry. My job is not to determine who goes to prison and who doesn’t go to prison. But when they’re coming out, we want to ensure that public safety is the first priority, and I think the way to guarantee public safety is to make sure someone gets the help they need if they have an addiction or mental illness, and that they’re getting the job training and skills so they can go out and get a job so they can pay their taxes, they can pay their bills, they can pay their restitution, and they’re not a threat to society anymore. I think my vision is one that can work for us, but it’s not going to come fast. It’s going to take time to do it.


Ward Named Director of Alabama Bureau of Pardons & Parole

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Longtime state legislator Cam Ward, who spearheaded prison reform and criminal justice legislation during his time at the Alabama Senate, was sworn in Monday as director of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey administered the oath of office to Ward after appointing him to replace Charlie Graddick, who resigned amid criticism over the slowing pace of paroles.

Ward, a Republican from Alabaster, stepped down from his Senate seat to take the state agency position.

Ivey on Monday also set special election dates to fill Ward’s Senate seat. District 14 represents portions of Bibb, Chilton, Hale, Jefferson and Shelby counties. The special primary election will be March 30. A runoff, if needed, will be held April 27, and the special general election will be July 13.

“I appreciate Senator Ward agreeing to serve in his new capacity as director of the Bureau of Pardons and Paroles, but it is just as critical to fill the open seat on behalf of the people in Senate District 14,” Ivey said in a statement.

Ward served as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and has worked on issues related to corrections and courts.

Alabama prisons held about 21,000 inmates in August, the last time the Department of Corrections released statistics. The prisons were designed to hold about 12,400 people, the report showed.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


published Ward Presents Grant to Alabaster City Schools in News 2021-01-05 13:32:51 -0600

Ward Presents Grant to Alabaster City Schools

ALABASTER – State Sen. Cam Ward awarded Alabaster City Schools with a $40,000 grant on Wednesday, Dec. 2.

Ward met with Thomson High School Principal Dr. Wesley Hester, Chief Technology Officer Anthony Kingston, Board of Education President Adam Moseley and ACS Superintendent Dr. Wayne Vickers at THS for the grant presentation.

The grant is meant to help the schools cover their remaining costs for security and safety upgrades, Ward said.

Vickers said the improvements would begin at THS to provide additional surveillance equipment in their parking areas.

“Senator Cam Ward has been nice enough to award us a $40,000 grant to enhance the safety features at our schools,” Vickers said. “We have received a $350,000 grant through the federal government to enhance safety features at all of our campuses as well. Senator Ward allows us to finish this project, and we really appreciate him doing that.”

Vickers said the improved security measures are much needed and appreciated by ACS, and this is not the first time Ward has been a contributor and friend to the school system.

“It’s a substantial commitment because we can do some things in our parking areas that we need surveillance on and so this is a big deal for high schools,” Vickers said. “We’re very thankful to Senator Ward. We are certainly going to miss him as he is leaving this position and taking another. He has been a great friend to public education in Alabama and a great friend to the Alabaster City Schools, and we are very thankful.”

Ward said he has watched the ACS system grow since the beginning and has enjoyed partnering with them over the years, stating that it is one of the best school systems in the state.

“I remember when Alabaster City School system first incorporated into a school system, and I can tell you looking at the changes today what I’ve seen in the last few years, it’s one of the fastest growing school systems in the state, and the reason for that is the quality of education that they provide,” Ward said. “The fact that they are already upgrading and looking at better features and better ways to provide safety on campus tells you the quality of the school system it is. I’ve loved partnering with them over the years. They’re great and I sincerely believe it’s one of the best school systems in the state.”

Kingston said THS’s resources were already fairly up-to-date before the grant, but now they will be able to expand the security coverage to the school’s parking lots and other parts of campus.

“This addition will help us finalize our completion of our security grant that we are doing for the other four locations,” Kingston said. “With the school being built in 2018, we had a lot of the resources here for security cameras and door access. With the additions that Senator Cam Ward will give us, we’ll be able to add more cameras to the parking lot areas for more security, and it will enhance things for us here on campus.”

Hester said he is grateful for the opportunity to enhance safety and security for staff, students and guests with the grant.

“It’s a tremendous blessing for our school just to be able to enhance the safety and security around our campus around our school,” Hester said. “Anything like this will greatly help us to make sure our students and our staff and all of our guests are very safe. They already are, but this is going to make them even safer, so it’s just a tremendous blessing of what this is going to be able to do for us and helping us to enhance our safety and security here at the high school.”


published Ward Right for the Job in News 2020-11-26 11:36:27 -0600

Ward Right for the Job

“Politically, Ward and I agree on probably a handful of things and disagree on a truckload more. But his beliefs are grounded in principles.”

State Sen. Cam Ward has been tapped to head Alabama's Bureau of Pardons and Paroles.

A strange thing happened Tuesday: Gov. Kay Ivey appointed a new director of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles and no one complained. 

Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives, independents. No one had a bad word to say about Cam Ward. 

The state senator from Alabaster is generally considered one of the most level-headed, respected members of Alabama’s Legislature, which is sort of famous for being anything but level-headed and respected. Unfortunately — or, I suspect, fortunately, in his opinion — he’ll be forced to give up that Senate seat to take on this new role. 

There’s little chance that someone as thoughtful and well-meaning as Ward will get his seat. 

And that’s a problem that I’ve never understood. A problem that is growing by the hour, it seems in today’s hyper-partisan, confrontational, social media-driven, image-only landscape of 2020 politics. 

Truth, decency, common sense and working for the greater good have taken a backseat to raw ambition and personal favorability polls. 

Why be a decent servant of the people and work to make meaningful changes that positively affect thousands of your fellow citizens when you can instead send out press releases and letters saying off-the-wall insane things that drive up your name ID? 

We’re to the point now that good politicians are actively hiding the good deeds they’re doing or their true thoughts about important, helpful legislation because they fear they’ll be demonized by more partisan primary challengers and punished by a voting bloc that increasingly sees elections as a means of confirming their commitment to their favorite R or D team. 

Ward is a perfect example of this. 

Several years ago, not long into his mission to overhaul Alabama’s criminal justice system through complicated legislation that was lost on the average voter and that essentially tricked other lawmakers into voting for good bills, I sat on a couch in the capitol building with Ward and talked about the reform he was pursuing. He asked me, point blank, to tone down anything I would write about it. I assume that was because he was fearful that a story explaining his criminal justice work, combined with my byline, would be attacked by the more conservative lobbyist groups and special interests. 

Public Service Announcement

He was right. And I toned it way down. 

In fact, over the years, much of what Ward has accomplished in reforms has remained unreported. Partly because it’s complicated and boring and involves endless details of legislative committee hearings and backroom negotiations, but also because so many people were fearful of just what it would mean if certain people and groups learned that Alabama had over the last several years participated in one of the largest mass releases of incarcerated individuals in the entire world. 

That’s not hyperbole. 

Thousands upon thousands of young men have been legally processed out of Alabama prisons through the criminal justice reforms pursued by Ward and others. 

It was accomplished by eliminating petty mandatory sentence mandates and streamlining probation protocols and dozens of other necessary and worthy changes. Changing things that were supposed to keep Alabamians safe but were actually just useless, punitive add-ons that sounded good on campaign websites while unfairly punishing people for petty crimes.

Despite all of those releases, Alabama’s violent crime rate is at its lowest point in decades, and pretty much all crime is at all-time lows. And the state’s recidivism rate is below the national average. 

One day in the future — hopefully, when Alabama’s prison issues have been addressed — the full story of what Ward and others accomplished can be told. 

But in 2020, that is impossible. 

Hell, it’s almost impossible that a guy like Ward exists, especially in the Alabama Republican Party. 

And that’s not a partisan shot. It’s reality. 

When you have a one-party state, as Alabama so firmly is, you squeeze out the middle. The only way to get elected in that party is to keep pushing further and further to the extremes and vilifying anyone who dares to compromise or play nice with “the enemy” on the other side of the aisle. 

Even while representing one of the reddest districts in this state, Ward has resisted such a push. And on more than one occasion, he’s pushed himself and his party back towards the middle on important issues. He’s even gone to war with his party and powerful conservative special interest groups over causes that were important to him and his constituents.

All of that is exceedingly rare these days.

Politically, Ward and I agree on probably a handful of things and disagree on a truckload more. But his beliefs are grounded in principles that he can identify and verbalize, and they come from a place of honesty.

You can reason and compromise with a person like that.  

But most importantly, for the job he’s about to take, Ward actually seems to care about his fellow man. You simply can’t take on the tasks and criticisms that he has over the last several years — all with so little political upside for him in this state — without there being high levels of compassion and empathy in him somewhere. 

And it’s nice to see such a guy finally get this job.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at jmoon@alreporter.com or follow him on Twitter.


published Reed Elected President Pro-Tempore of Alabama Senate in News 2020-11-26 11:32:59 -0600

Reed Elected President Pro-Tempore of Alabama Senate

Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper, was unanimously picked Monday by Alabama Senate Republicans to be the next president pro tempore of the chamber, putting Reed in the top leadership role in the Senate and the third highest position in state government. 

The action by senators was in the form of a nomination that is expected to be successful during a vote in the full Senate, with Republicans controlling 27 of the 35 seats in the Senate. 

A rules change in 1999 watered down the power of the lieutenant governor, making the post of president pro tem in reality the highest leadership role in the Senate. 

The nomination came ater Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said Monday he would step down from that role at the start of the 2021 Regular Session, which starts Feb. 2. Marsh had already announced he was not seeking re-election in 2020. He has served as pro tem since 2010.

Reed, 55, has been senate majority leader since 2015. He was re-elected to his Senate seat in 2014 and 2018 without opposition. 

Sen. Clay Scofield, R-Guntersville, was also picked by Republicans to follow Reed as majority leader. 

Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, told AL.com, he doesn't see major changes for the Senate as part of the changeover. “Senator Reed works hand-in-hand with Senator Marsh. I see a stable transition,” Ward said.

Reed told the Eagle Tuesday afternoon that in the wake of Marsh's intentions to not run again that it was "a natural progression and an opportunity to maybe take additional responsibilities within the Senate body. I began to think about it and look at it as an opportunity for me, and made it known to my colleagues over time that if and when Senator Marsh decided to step aside, that I would be interested in the opportunity." He said he hoped that his years as majority leader demonstrated he could do the job. 

He said a number of his colleagues also came to him about the possibility of become pro tem.

At Monday's meeting, Marsh made the announcement he had several things he wanted to focus on, and he would step aside as pro tem, Reed said, adding that Marsh had "hinted" beforehand he would make the announcement then, and that it was completely his decision. 

"At that point, a little bit to my surprise, I was quickly nominated, and there was a vote taken by my colleagues, and I was elected unanimously by our caucus to be the pro temp once Senator Marsh stepped aside," he said. However, he emphasized that the formal resignation from the role and Reed's election by the full Senate will not come until the start of the session. 

Reed said he has a "great relationship" with Sen. Bobby Singleton, the minority leader, and has already spoken to him. "He's also offered his support," he said, adding he will be speaking soon to other members of the minority caucus to ask for their support.

He said he has known Scofield for many years, as they were both first elected together. "He is a businessman and farmer from up in Marshall County," he said, adding they will be able to work well together. 

As for the pro tem position, Reed said while he has led the majority caucus of Republicans in the chamber, the pro tem role, elected by the full Senate, will have responsibilities to the full Senate. It will involve operation of the Senate and the Senate staff, he said. The pro tem will also be responsible for a number of appointments and is third in line to succession as governor in the Alabama Constitution, after the governor and lieutenant governor. 

While he will have more responsibility, he will stay the same in focusing to be a "servant leader" to the chamber and to help other senators to be recognized and heard for their thoughts and ideas as part of deliberations. He said he would also be the governor's "primary contact" with the Senate. 

He said he would continue to represent his Senate district and continue those normal responsibilities, bringing "a highlight and a focus on my own district." 

Reed said business needs would be a focus in the coming session, saying he is hearing from colleagues across both chambers and from constituents that Alabamians "are focused keenly right now" on the economy and job growth, and how to keep businesses open. They also want to "take every option to mitigate the coronavirus," he said. Some resulting packages he will focus on are renewing and creating incentive packages to recruit business for the state. 

He also wants to concentrate on conservative budget methods, adding the state is in much better shape economically to deal with the pandemic because of the state's conservative approach, compared to other states. As a result, he said Alabama has not had to deal with the deep cuts other states have. 

On COVID-19, he said upcoming vaccines sound promising, but the state has "a ways to go before we get to the timing where those products are readily available for our citizenry." He said the state needed to work with federal officials and the Alabama Department of Public Health in the meantime. 

"I just want people to know what an honor and privilege it is for me at the deepest personal level to be able to serve my district first, and the people of my home district," Reed said, "and to be selected as the leader of the state Senate is a great honor. I take it very seriously. I want to do the absolutely best job I possibly can. I will never claim to have all the answers, but I will everything I can to be a leader that the people the people of my district can be proud of." 

Reed has served in the Senate since 2010, where he represents the 5th District, including Walker, Winston, Fayette, Tuscaloosa and Jefferson counties. 


published Former Mayor of Clanton Honored in News 2020-11-26 11:29:44 -0600

Former Mayor of Clanton Honored

Several residents and employees of the City of Clanton came together on Nov. 16 to honor the late Mayor Billy Joe Driver on what would have been his 85th Birthday.

“It’s great to have a day like this where everybody can express their appreciation for him,” Clanton Councilwoman Mary Mell Smith said. “He just loved this city and was a 24/7 mayor.”

Probate Judge Jason Calhoun and Sen. Cam Ward both presented proclamations declaring the day as Billy Joe Driver Day from the county and the state levels respectively.

“Billy Joe was Clanton,” Ward said. “He represented an old-school version of how to do things. He talked to people and cared for people. He was the person we should all strive to be.”

The ceremony was highlighted by Clanton Mayor Jeff Mims presenting Driver’s daughter Kim Hayes with a plaque honoring her father.

“My dad was not big on birthday celebrations, but I know he would be proud of this one,” Hayes said.

Mims understands that he has some big shoes to fill as the one following a legend.

“This town will never forget him,” Mims said. “He’s all a lot of people have ever known.”

However, he is confident in the city’s future growth and credited Driver for putting the Clanton in great shape.

“We are the envy of a lot of little towns,” Mims said.

Mims said he was able to talk to Driver about running for mayor and got some advice, especially when it comes to the financial side of things and budgeting the money.

“I wished I would have gotten to talk to him more,” Mims said. “I thought the world of him, and he was a good man.”

According to Mims, the last time he spoke with Driver was just days before he contracted COVID-19, which would eventually lead to his death.

“We were just sitting there eating lunch and talking,” Mims said. “I was asking him things about the old water works building and told him that it would be a beautiful place for a museum or something. His eyes lit up, and he said, ‘You know that’s where my daddy worked.’ I think it made him feel good to know that I didn’t want to tear it down.”

Driver was the one that encouraged Mims to join the planning and zoning board in 2011.

“He did not turn down anybody who came in to talk with him,” Smith said. “You felt very comfortable about speaking to him about whatever. He made it that way.”


published Ward Vows Pragmatic Approach to Pardon & Parole in News 2020-11-26 11:27:11 -0600

Ward Vows Pragmatic Approach to Pardon & Parole

Tuesday, Gov. Kay Ivey announced the appointment of State Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) to fill the vacancy left behind by the retired Charlie Graddick for the opening of director of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles.

Ward will assume the role on December 7 and take over an agency that has been in the spotlight because of controversies over the past few years.

In an interview with Mobile radio FM Talk 106.5’s “The Jeff Poor Show,” the Shelby County Republican lawmaker acknowledged there were difficulties ahead but said he anticipates finding a way to rectify the agency’s problems with a “balanced approach.”

“You’re never going to win a popularity contest in this job, for sure, because you’ve had directors come and go,” he said. “The job itself is to manage the agency, which is about 740-745 employees. So it’s a very large state agency, incorporated in every single county in the state. The controversy has been how they determined who’s been paroled and who didn’t. We had a time when so many people were being paroled, and they got paroled and shouldn’t have been. And then we went to a time when paroles came to an end, and the criminal justice system started backing up. You’ve got to find a balanced approach that is pragmatic and, at the same time, based upon facts and data. And I think we need to get back to that.”

As far as what to expect under his leadership, Ward said he would abide by the laws passed by the Alabama Legislature and said public safety was the priority.

“The legislature makes the law, and we should enforce and do what the legislature has given us the charge to do,” Ward explained. “That’s the most important thing — follow the letter of the law. I do think philosophically — you know, public safety has to always come first. That should be our number one priority. But in order to achieve public safety, there’s a lot of reentry programs and rehabilitation efforts that can take place to make sure if someone is going to be out, that they’re getting the supervision and the treatment they need so they don’t commit a crime again. It’s a different philosophy. It’s easy for people also to knock Judge Graddick. But he came into a job — it was a very, very difficult situation. So, I think it is a little unfair to knock any one person for a problem that’s been building for years.”

Ward argued communication was an integral component to overcoming the bureau’s woes and vowed to work with Attorney General Steve Marshall and Alabama Department of Corrections head Jeff Dunn in the future.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.


published Ward to be Next Director of Pardon & Parole in News 2020-11-26 11:23:57 -0600

Ward to be Next Director of Pardon & Parole

Sen. Cam Ward, a leading advocate for criminal justice reform in the Alabama Legislature, will become the next director of the Bureau of Pardons and Paroles. 

"It’s got to be the hardest job in state government," said the Alabaster Republican in a phone interview on Tuesday. "They have a lot of issues going on. My number one issue is criminal justice reform."

Gov. Kay Ivey, who announced the appointment on Tuesday, said in a statement that Ward's "background and experience will position him to closely follow the letter of the law while providing individuals every opportunity possible to rebuild their lives post incarceration.”

Ward, elected to the Senate in 2010, has taken the lead on addressing prison overcrowding and criminal justice issues during his time in the legislature. In 2015, he sponsored a reform package that helped bring down the prison population for several years. Ward was also shepherding a package of follow-up bills this year, before the COVID-19 outbreak caused the legislature to cut back its activities this spring.

Ward will succeed Charles Graddick, who is leaving the position at the end of the month. 

Graddick, who made his name as a tough-on-crime Alabama attorney general in the 1980s, became director after a reorganization stemming from the release of an inmate improperly labeled nonviolent. The inmate killed three people, including a 7-year-old child, in the course of two robberies in the summer of 2018. 

Graddick faced criticism for a drop in paroles granted during his time in the position. Statistics compiled by Alabamians for Fair Justice found parole grants dropped from 54% from 2017 to 2018 to 20% during the time Graddick was in the role.

More:Charles Graddick to resign as director of Pardons and Paroles

The outgoing director did not vote on parole decisions, but defended the fall off at a budget hearing earlier this year, saying many inmates coming up for parole had not completed requirements for early release. 

Ward was one of Graddick's critics at the meeting, asking about the drop-off in paroles and the bureau publicizing the crimes of those who went before the board. 

“I don’t believe it’s the Pardons and Parole Board’s job to retry every single case,” he said. “I think your job is to say, ‘What did you do, and are you going to be dangerous if you get out?’"

Ward said Tuesday he hoped to improve communication between the Board and the Department of Corrections, and said there needed to be a "balance" in parole decisions. 

"The key is again you’ve got to follow the statues, follow the law," he said. "I think you need a Goldilocks approach." 

Ward said he expects criminal justice reform efforts to continue in the Legislature. 

The senator will take over the position on Dec. 7, when he plans to resign from the Senate. A special election to fill Ward's seat will follow shortly afterward. The district, mostly located in Shelby County, is strongly Republican. 

Ivey and Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn are pushing to build three new men's prisons to alleviate overcrowding and provide more training and rehabilitation programs for inmates. The Legislature has been effectively sidelined as the process moves forward. 

Ward sought the Republican nomination for an Alabama Supreme Court seat earlier this year, but lost in the primary to incumbent Justice Greg Shaw.

Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Brian Lyman at 334-240-0185 or blyman@gannett.com. Updated at 8:06 a.m. Thursday to clarify Graddick's position with Pardons and Paroles. 


followed Volunteer 2014-07-22 09:32:41 -0500

Business Community Announces Support for Prison Reform

By William J. Canary
Published: Wednesday, March 25, 2015 at 8:00 p.m.

 

 

That old saying, "A day of reckoning is fast approaching," is so apropos when discussing Alabama's seriously overcrowded prisons.

Addressing solely the finances of prison reform, it would cost $840 million to build new prisons that would reduce Alabama's prison capacity of 190 percent to just 100 percent. That $840 million is 44 percent of the state's unearmarked $1.9 billion general fund budget.

It could take four or five new mega-prisons to reduce chronic overcrowding, not to mention an additional $186 million a year to operate.

When you throw in the other issues involving prison overcrowding, including moral ones — the persistent dangers to inmates and prison keepers, mental health needs, lack of individual attention, and a real risk of federal court intervention, which would result in wholesale inmate releases and the expense of hundreds of millions of dollars to meet a court order — it becomes a real crisis.

That's why recommendations of a comprehensive prison overcrowding study by the Alabama Joint Prison Reform Task Force formed in 2014 deserve scrutiny by the Alabama business community.

Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, headed the Alabama Joint Prison Reform Task Force. Members included judges and attorneys from both prosecution and defense bars, victim advocates and legislators.

The Task Force worked with the Council of State Governments Justice Center to determine what caused our prisons to overflow.

Ward's efforts include introducing Senate Bill 67, the prison reform bill. It's on the Senate calendar when the Legislature returns to Montgomery on March 31 after spring break. 

Until now, business communities generally have left prison management to their respective states. But when states such as Alabama face an overcrowding crisis, it's incumbent upon business to become involved.

Why?

Because with Alabama's growth taxes — sales and income — earmarked largely for education, any new money for prison expansion likely will come from the job creators — Alabama business.

States are taking holistic approaches to prison overcrowding by addressing sentencing, creating a new felony category to remove some non-violent offenses from the Habitual Offender Law, diversion, mental health, drug and alcohol treatment, inmate job training, more trained probation and parole officers and prioritizing expensive prison space for violent and dangerous individuals, all the while holding offenders accountable while in prison and after their release.

Alabama's Joint Prison Reform Task Force projects that it will cost $35 million a year to implement proposals and reduce the prison population by about 4,500 inmates each year over the next six years, or 27,000 in all. The cost would be $210 million by 2021.

It won't completely reduce overcrowding to 100 percent of capacity, but in dollars, it makes "sense," especially when you consider the potentially open-ended cost of federal intervention. 

It has been written, "You can't escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today." 

Great private and public partnerships remind me of a person who is capable of using one's heart and head at the same time. It just makes "sense" doesn't it?

William J. Canary is President and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama.


Prison Reform Task Force to Present Proposals in February

MONTGOMERY — The head of a prison task force said sentencing changes, increased resources for parole and alternative sentences and construction projects to take the immediate pressure off overcrowded prisons will likely be among the items the group recommends to lawmakers.

Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, the lawmaker who heads the Alabama Prison Reform Task Force, said he wants members to look at a "buffet" of proposals in January and hopefully have a bill ready in February. The group has been meeting since June to consider ways to overhaul the state prison system, so overcrowded that state politicians say they fear federal intervention.

Alabama prisons hold nearly twice the number of inmates the facilities were originally designed to house. Alabama in 2013 also had the fourth-highest incarceration rate in the country, according to a report from the Bureau of Justice statistics.

"Politicians created this problem. Through the years we've had politicians running on 'Lock them up and throw away the key.' They ran on that platform, but they didn't have a means to fund the high rate of incarceration," said task force member Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile.

Alabama deals with low-level property crimes more severely than other states, according to a study presented to the task force by the Council of State Governments.

Stealing something valued at $500 is felony theft in Alabama. Thirty-four states have higher monetary thresholds for theft to be considered a felony, according to the group. Alabama also considers burglary, no matter how small or the circumstances, to be a violent crime. Other states do not.

"We haven't changed those thresholds in years. We have the lowest thresholds in the South," Ward said.

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore said he believes the state needs additional changes to the Habitual Felony Offender Act, a decades-old law that for years handed down decades-long sentences.

"In my opinion, and I'm the chief justice, I think the judicial system is failing us," Moore said.

"We've got people serving life without parole who have never confronted a victim, they've never confronted a person. That's unreasonable," Moore said in an interview.

Alabama lawmakers approved the Habitual Felony Offender Act in 1977 in an effort to crack down on career criminals. It mandates enhanced sentences for repeat offenders and mandatory sentence minimums. For example, a person convicted of a Class A felony — such as first-degree robbery, trafficking, rape, murder — is sentenced to life, either with or without the possibility of parole, if they have three prior convictions for lesser felonies. Lawmakers have softened the law through the years and since 2006 have allowed judges to set the lengthy mandatory sentences aside in some cases in favor of new sentence guidelines.

The chief justice said he believes there are still problems. Moore in September wrote a dissent in a case, in which a man caught trying to steal a nail gun from a Lowe's by stuffing it down his pants, was sentenced to life in prison as a habitual offender.

The man, who had three previous felony convictions, was convicted of first-degree robbery, a Class A felony, after telling the store staff that confronted him that he had a gun while sticking his hand in his pocket. Moore said the man, who was not armed with a firearm and told police he was referencing the nail gun, should not have been convicted of armed robbery because he was not armed.

Ward said a major thrust for the task force will be to seek changes to probation and parole procedures.

Forty percent of prison admissions are for violation of probation and parole, according to the study presented to the task force. Officers with the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles carry average caseloads of about 200 each.

"Somewhere in this process there is going to have to be some more money for supervised parole. Right now we just don't have the manpower to conduct the kind of supervision that these inmates need," Ward said.

Ward said the state needs to do something to increase immediate prison capacity to take the immediate pressure off of the system. That too, Ward said, will also take additional money from the state.

Bennett Wright, executive director of the Alabama Sentencing Commission, said if lawmakers just pass legislation without funding, "those reform efforts are never going to reach their potential."

 

Editorial: A Jeffersonian Approach- Sen Ward is wise to defend other Republicans opinions

Remember what Thomas Jefferson said in his second inaugural address? That speech was given at a time when some in his party and in the opposition were calling for a crackdown on those who dared deviate from what one group or the other felt was the path all should follow.

Jefferson said to let the dissenters and the doubters “stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.”

Essential to the toleration Jefferson espoused was the understanding that if the “error of opinion” could not be combated with reason, it might not be error at all.

Put simply, all opinions have a place in the debate.

Which is why this page wishes to thank Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, for going on record that it is just “plain wrong” for the state GOP to prohibit anyone from serving on its steering committee if that person publicly disagreed with the platform adopted by the national Republican Party.

Ward was referring to a resolution recently introduced at the Alabama Republican Executive Committee to remove anyone from the steering committee who had the audacity to disagree with what the national party deemed the proper position to take.

As the senator went on to note, the resolution to remove “is all (about) one person, Stephanie Petelos,” the chairwoman of the College Republicans Federation of Alabama.

Petelos’ crime against the party was to point out that young Republicans would be speaking out in favor of gay marriage if they “didn’t live in fear of a backlash from party leaders.”

So, to prove Petelos’ point, state party leaders are lashing back.

Except for Cam Ward, who came not to the defense of gay marriage, he opposes that, but to the defense of Petelos’ right to speak her mind on the issue without being punished by the party for her opinion.

Chiding some in his party for wanting a “100 percent litmus test for everybody,” Ward expressed the “hope that our party sees the need to reject this resolution and welcome the views of all our party members and not just a select few.”

We agree with Sen. Ward. 

So, we believe, would Thomas Jefferson.


Cam Ward
429pc
Director of AL Bureau of Pardons & Parole, former legislator, husband to Lindsey and happy dad to Riley & Clements.