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Alabama Prison Homicide Rate Highest in Nation

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — In the span of three hours at a southwest Alabama prison, one inmate was fatally stabbed and another was seriously wounded after being stabbed in a separate fight.

Eighteen inmates have been killed by other inmates since October of 2016, according to statistics and news releases from the Department of Corrections.

The Montgomery-based nonprofit organization Equal Justice Initiative released a report last week finding that Alabama’s prisons are the most lethal in the nation. The report found that Alabama’s rate of over 34 homicides per 100,000 people incarcerated is more than 600 percent greater than the national average from 2001 to 2014.

“The violence is epidemic,” Morrison said. “We have a crisis that is not going to get better until we see a more effective and committed response from state leadership to addressing the issue

Bob Horton, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections, said the prison homicide rate is a “priority concern.” He said he could not comment on the nonprofit’s findings because he did not know how they did their comparison.

“There is a direct correlation between the level of prison violence and the shortage of correctional staff in an overpopulated prison system with limited resources for rehabilitating offenders. The proliferation of drugs and criminal activity inside prisons also contribute to an increase in violent incidents,” Horton wrote in an email.

“The Alabama Department of Corrections recognizes the seriousness of the problem and is taking steps to reverse this trend,” Horton wrote.

The prison system’s monthly reports list that 16 inmates died in homicides in fiscal years 2017 and 2018. So far this fiscal year, the department has reported two fatal stabbings.

Twenty-nine-year-old Vaquerro Kinjuan Armstrong was fatally stabbed Dec. 2 at William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore. Armstrong was serving a 22-year sentence on a 2009 first-degree robbery conviction in Talladega County. About three hours later, another inmate was critically wounded when another fight broke out in the same prison.

Staffing levels have been raised as an issue in an ongoing lawsuit over prison mental health care. Alabama Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn told The Associated Press earlier this year that estimates filed with the court show the state needs to add about 1,800 officers — nearly doubling current staffing levels.

The department has begun an effort to recruit and retain additional staff. As an initial effort to increase officer ranks, the department authorized a five and 10 percent pay increase for officers at minimum and maximum security prisons.

State Sen. Cam Ward, co-chair of the legislative prison oversight committee, said EJI’s finding sounded accurate.

Ward said a side effect of sentencing reform efforts, which sought to relieve prison overcrowding by keeping nonviolent offenders out of prison, is that prison populations are made up mostly of violent offenders.

The Equal Justice Initiative filed a class-action lawsuit in 2014 against the state Department of Corrections in connection with previous homicides and assaults at St. Clair correctional facility.

The Equal Justice Initiative said it re-initiated its investigation of Elmore Correctional Facility this year after receiving dozens of reports of stabbings, assaults, extortion, and excessive use of force.

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Bill Being Considered on Parole Board Discretion

By Jennifer Horton | November 15, 2018 at 6:59 PM CST - Updated November 15 at 9:05 PM


MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Changes could be on the horizon for the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles.
State leaders are still evaluating the Board’s Corrective Action Plan which was submitted this week. That plan was prompted by the governor after dozens of violent inmates were scheduled for early parole consideration.

The Board of Pardons and Paroles is arguably one of the most powerful entities in the state, with little accountability, but that could soon change.

Sen. Cam Ward, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he’s working on a plan to rein in the Board’s discretion.
“Unless you have some sort of impeachment, there’s nothing you can do to them," Ward stated.

When Ward was working on the Justice Reinvestment Initiative in 2015, he proposed limiting some of the Board's power.
“There was resistance to that, and the Justice Reinvestment Initiative had very little with who was paroled, or how they were paroled,” he explained. “I believed they had too much discretion, I said it in 2015, and I believe the same thing today.”

Ward is working with law enforcement and prosecutors to draft a bill imposing accountability for the Board to follow their self-imposed guidelines.

“Take their policies and procedures and put it in the statute,” Ward said of the forthcoming legislation. “What we are dealing with here at the Parole Board are murders, rapists, child molesters, and [the Board members] are taking their own guidelines and throwing them out the window and making it up as they go along.”

Ward believes the early release of violent inmates is responsible for a statewide increase in crime.

“We’ve seen a 25 percent spike in violent crime rate and a big part of that is due to those who were previously incarcerated being released too early,” Ward stated. “I think the Parole Board was being way too generous in the number of people they were releasing who were previously convicted of violent crimes.”

Ward denies the Board was pressured to release more inmates due to prison overcrowding, and isn't sure what prompted their actions.

“The Justice Reinvestment Initiative dealt with non-violent offenses,” he explained. Non-violent offenders now account for less than 15 percent of the current prison population, according to numbers Ward stated during an interview.

He wants to ensure the Department of Corrections (DOC) isn’t a revolving door for the same inmates. “If they follow their Corrective Plan to the letter, then they should be OK,” Ward stated. “But then my concern is that plan is pretty much what the guidelines are anyway - it really didn’t change much.”

Ward was citing the proposal to eliminate a process the Board calls ‘select review,’ or the opportunity to request an early parole hearing for those convicted of a Class A Felony that imposed serious physical injury, sex offenders with a victim 12 years old or under, or those convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to more than 15 years behind bars. Those offenders would serve 15 years or 85 percent of their sentence, whichever comes first, to become eligible for parole.

The current guidelines state;
"Excluding those crimes committed prior to March 21, 2001, when an inmate is convicted of one or more of the following Class A felonies, the initial parole consideration date shall be set in conjunction with the inmate’s completion of eighty-five (85) percent of his or her total sentence or fifteen (15) years, whichever is less, unless the designee finds mitigating circumstances: Rape I, Kidnapping I, Murder, Attempted Murder, Sodomy I, and Sexual Torture; Robbery I with serious physical injury, Burglary I with serious physical injury, and Arson I with serious physical injury. Serious physical injury in this paragraph is as defined in title 13A-1-2(14) of the Alabama Code."

Ward will introduce the bill in March during the regular legislative session.

Until then, the governor and attorney general must approve the Board’s Corrective Action Plan. The moratorium on early parole hearings for violent inmates is still in place.

Copyright 2018 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.

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Gov. Ivey Issues Moratorium on Early Paroles

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Monday placed a 75-day moratorium on early paroles, and replaced the parole board chairman.

The governor's moves follow concerns that the state parole board had freed violent offenders.

Ivey announced the action in a news conference with Attorney General Steve Marshall after the two had met with parole board members.

The order signed by Ivey directs the board to stop considering inmates for parole before they complete a designated amount of their sentence. She also asked the board to develop a corrective action plan. The governor also shuffled which board member will serve as chairman. Lyn Head will serve as chair, replacing Cliff Walker.

"There will be no more early parole during this period," Ivey said. "It's obvious we need a new approach so we can strengthen management and operations of that agency to better protect the people and public safety."

A spokesman for the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles said there was no immediate response to the criticisms from the two statewide office holders.

The two actions come after prosecutors and victim advocates expressed alarm over who was being released from prison and the adequacy of parole supervision once an inmate is released. A man charged in the July murders of a 7-year-old boy, his great grandmother and another woman in Guntersville had been released from prison in January after being granted parole.

"When I talk to prosecutors what they are saying is they are seeing more of those violent offenders showing up," Marshall said.

WSFA had reported about concerns about the number of inmates being considered for early parole.

Parole board rules said inmates convicted of serious crimes such as rape will get initial consideration for parole after they serve 85 percent of their sentence or at least 15 years, whichever is less. However, board members can also take into account mitigating circumstances and also expedite consideration to respond to a crisis.

The parole board issued a statement to WSFA earlier this month disputing an increase in early paroles or any change in procedure.

"The agency's position is we do not have data showing a dramatic increase in violent inmates being considered for parole prior to their original set date. If such data exists from another entity, we would be happy to analyze their numbers," the agency statement read.

Sen. Cam Ward, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said lawmakers might consider trying to take away some of board members' discretion in deciding who gets released.

"There's no question there is a problem," Ward, a Republican from Alabaster, said. "I think there are violent offenders who are being considered for parole way too early."

 

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TIS Recreating Historic Thompson Farmhouse

By NEAL WAGNER / Managing Editor

ALABASTER – When Thompson Intermediate School teacher Amber Broadhead and the school’s student committee began brainstorming ideas for the school’s Alabama Bicentennial project, they didn’t have to look further than the name on the school building.

Earlier this year, TIS submitted a community project idea to the Alabama Bicentennial Commission in an attempt to be named an “Official Alabama Bicentennial School” and receive a $2,000 grant to implement their project.

In May, TIS was one if multiple local schools to be named to the list and receive the state grants. Now, Broadhead and her students are getting to work.

“The kids are so passionate about this project,” Broadhead said. “We wanted to do something that would involve the community as well as the school.”

Through their project, the students will be working to construct an outdoor classroom at the current Thompson Middle School – where TIS will move after renovations are completed to the city’s school buildings over the next several months – recreating the look of the since-demolished Thomas Carlyle Thompson farmhouse in Siluria.

In the early 20th century, Thompson donated the land to house Alabaster’s schools, and his family’s name has been attached to the schools ever since.

“Really, the only thing we have now is the picture of Thomas Carlyle Thompson hanging in City Hall. There isn’t much commemorating how important he was to the city’s history,” Broadhead said. “This project is devoted to allowing the students to learn more about their own community and the history of Alabama.”

Per the guidelines of the grant, the students will work over the next several months to complete the outdoor classroom and have it ready for use by May 2019. Broadhead said the outdoor classroom will also be accessible to the community after it opens.

On the morning of Sept. 19, several students on the TIS student committee and their teachers met with state Sen. Cam Ward, state Reps. April Weaver and Matt Fridy and Alabama Bicentennial Ambassador Bobby Joe Seales and his wife Diane to celebrate the school’s inclusion as a Bicentennial School.

The TIS bicentennial-themed float will also follow directly behind Seales’ grand marshal car in the Alabaster homecoming parade on Oct. 10.

“Thank you all so much for your support,” Broadhead told the group after it took a photo under the school’s “We are an official Bicentennial school” banner. “The kids are very familiar with the Alabama Bicentennial and how important it is to our school.”

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CAWACO Awards Grant to Minooka Trails Project

By The Clanton Advertiser

 


Minooka Park in Jemison is scheduled to undergo expansion after receiving a Recreational Trails Program grant.

The Cawaco Resource, Conservation and Development Council presented a $10,000 grant to the Chilton County Parks and Recreation Board, which was used to match a $150,000 Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs grant and a $27,400 grant from the Chilton County Commission to help cover the estimated cost of the project, according to a Cawaco press release.

“Cawaco is leaving its mark on both of our parks,” Parks and Recreation director Gerald Arrington said. “They’ve really been good to us.”

Cawaco RC&D is an organization that supports educational and community development projects in Central Alabama.

“It takes a big team to get something like that to happen,” said Drayton Cosby with Cawaco.

Commissioners Steve Langston, Jimmie Hardee and Joe Headley were joined by Sen. Cam Ward, Rep. Jimmy Martin, Rep. April Weaver and members of the Chilton County Extension Office during the Cawaco grant presentation on Aug. 29.

According to Arrington, 83 acres has been purchased and will be home to several trails, including the possibility of a more suited beginner loop.

The park’s current beginner loop is only one mile long.

“It’s a hidden jewel out here,” Ward said about the park.

The goal for the new section of trails is to be wider and more conducive for riding side-by-side ATVs. “We’re looking forward to bringing in new riders,” Arrington said.

Arrington hopes to have the project completed by next spring. The additional land puts the park at roughly 450 total acres.

“It is a tremendous asset for the county,” Martin said

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Thank You to Alabama's Teachers

My oldest daughter just turned sixteen. She’s driving, and as a dad, it’s a thrilling, but scary moment in life — this week, she started the tenth grade, and the reality is that during the school year, she spends nearly as much time at school as she does around home. For young people like my daughter, those hours at school are shaped primarily by their fellow students and their teachers.

If everything turns out right, a young person will enter Alabama’s schools around the age of five or six, and by the time they graduate at seventeen or eighteen, they will have a solid grasp of the fundamentals of mathematics, history, American and English literature, biology, and chemistry, among other subjects. We entrust teachers with the awesome responsibility of educating our young people about the basic structure of the universe - to understand and reason through, for instance, the process of photosynthesis – so that they can think analytically when confronted with any type of problem. That’s an incredible responsibility; and to teach such important knowledge to students who, well, haven’t yet achieved full impulse control, is no small task.

We trust our teachers to impart knowledge and facts, but we also expect our teachers to model virtuous behavior before our young people, because knowledge isn’t the same thing as wisdom, and we want our kids to become responsible adults. The best teachers can not only clearly communicate lessons on the history of the Civil Rights movement, but can also talk about, and model in person, the virtues of courage and perseverance that animated heroes like Rosa Parks.

Facts are stubborn things, as the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once said, and what she meant by that is that the world is governed by certain unalterable truths, including, for instance, the truth that a free market economy lifts more people out of poverty than socialism does. Teachers turn this knowledge into wisdom by showing students the link between effort and reward: the harder you work, the better grades you will get, and the harder you work once you graduate, the more opportunities you will have in the workplace.

Great teachers impart knowledge, model wisdom, and often they do so at a great cost to themselves: growing up, the best teachers I had were the ones who were willing to stay a few minutes after class to answer my fifteenth question how to solve a quadratic equation. Many teachers often sacrifice time and effort beyond what’s required — the clock often begins before eight, rarely stops at five, and every hour in-between is dedicated to their craft.

As a state senator, I am committed to ensuring that our schools are well-funded and that our teachers are competitively paid. Nothing is more important to the future of Alabama than supporting education policies that work — and as in business or sports, personnel is policy. I am grateful to the great teachers we have, and I promise to always have your back in Montgomery. Thanks for all that you do — the impact that you have on my daughter and thousands of other students is life-changing.

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Helena Receives $8,000 Grant for Park

By GRAHAM BROOKS / Staff Writer

HELENA–Joe Tucker Park will see some improvements to the boundless playground equipment, thanks to a grant that was approved at the Monday, July 9 Helena City Council Meeting.

The Community Development Fund Grant comes to Helena in the amount of $8,000 from the Alabama Association of Resource Conservation and Development. The grant was discovered by State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster while serving on the appropriations committee. Ward felt that the city of Helena could put the grant to use and called Helena Mayor Mark Hall to see if there was a need.

“I was told there was a grant for the area but nobody had asked for it so I asked for it,” Ward said at the July 9 Helena City Council Meeting. “The Resource Conservation and Development delivers grants and when we have a little extra money for projects we want to put those to use. The mayor and I talked and $8,000 later we’ve got some money to improve Joe Tucker Park.”

The city of Helena knew that several of the boundless playground equipment would need to be replaced at Joe Tucker Park totaling close to $10,000 and the grant will help fill that need.

“We were trying to find a way to replace the equipment but Cam called and said, ‘Hey I’ve got you a grant that you could probably qualify for if you have something in your department that needs to be fixed,’” Hall said. “I said ‘Oh wow this is a Godsend’ so as usual Cam came through for us and got us the grant that will help us tremendously. We just want to thank you for coming through at a time when we need it most.”

In other business, the Helena Council approved Resolution 07092018 with the Shelby County Highway Department for a caution light service agreement at Shelby County 91 at Hillsboro Parkway, approved funds for the 2018 10U Helena Rage All-Star Team for competing in the 2018 All-Star World Series in Gulf Shores and approved changes to member of the Helena Historical Preservation Committee.

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Shelby Legislators Honor "Doc" Mahan

ALABASTER – On May 8, Dr. Stanley Michael “Doc” Mahan was honored for his lifetime of service and commitment to the community of Brierfield, Montevallo and the surrounding areas by having a bridge near Montevallo named in his honor.

Mahan’s family settled in the Brierfield area off of Highway 139 more than 200 years ago. Mahan founded his dentistry, located along Highway 139 above Mahan Creek, in 1966. He spent the last 50 years serving the community as a dentist before retiring to his current home at Shelby Ridge in Alabaster.

On May 8, Dr. Mahan was honored by state Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, and state Rep. April Weaver, R-Brierfield, at a ceremony at Shelby Ridge with commemorative plaques signed by Gov. Kay Ivey naming the bridge that runs above Mahan Creek on Highway 139 the Mike “Doc” Mahan Bridge.

A teary Dr. Mahan accepted his awards in front of his family, his dental staff and the staff at Shelby Ridge who currently care for him. He reminisced about his time serving the community in many different capacities and thanked his wife, Linda, for all her support throughout the years.

Dr. Mahan received his undergraduate degrees from Auburn University and the University of Montevallo before pursuing his DMD at the University of Alabama, where he graduated in 1966. In addition to his dental practice, he has also served as adjunct faculty at the University of Alabama and the University of Montevallo. He has also served in many different dentistry honor societies, local fire departments and been a faithful member of the Montevallo First United Methodist Church.

“Dr. Mahan has been an instrumental part of the fabric of Shelby County’s history,” Administrator Roderick Watkins at Shelby Ridge said. “We are happy to be just a small part of honoring his legacy today.”

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Let's Unlock Second Chances in Alabama

By State Senator Cam Ward

No one makes it through life without regrets. The split-second decision we wish we could take back, the risk we never should have taken, the people we failed to prioritize—these are the moments that open our eyes to our need for a fresh start. Unfortunately, not everyone gets a second chance. Right now, there are 22,401 adults in Alabama’s prison system. Ninety percent or more of these men and women will be released after paying their debt to society. When they are, they will find second chances hard to come by. This is not only an issue in Alabama. It is estimated that 65 million Americans—or one in four adults—have a criminal record. Everyone makes mistakes in life, so each of us deserves a second chance. That’s why our legislature resolved that April would be Second Chance Month in Alabama. This resolution is another step in the effort to reform our prison system. It’s time for our state to begin removing unnecessary barriers for people who have paid for their crimes. The Council of State Governments has found that returning citizens face more than 48,000 legal barriers to housing, education, employment, and more. Shouldn’t we want people to get a job and become law abiding taxpaying citizens? Preventing former inmates from getting a job just doesn’t make sense. Then there’s the long shadow of a criminal record. Men and women who have a criminal record face social stigma from others in their communities, and the shame associated with spending time in prison. They have a difficult time finding a place to live, getting a driver’s license, or insuring a vehicle. Many businesses write off an applicant with criminal background regardless of whether they have paid their debt and done everything that has been asked of them. Christians believe in loving their neighbors by treating them the way we would wish to be treated ourselves. If you faced rebuilding a life, including your career and relationships, you would want someone to offer you a second chance—not because they pity you, but because they value you as a fellow person. Jesus didn’t turn anyone away, no matter what bad decisions they had made in the past. We can learn from that lesson. It’s harder to extend love and chances to people when they have fallen, but the reality is we have all fallen in different ways. Alabama is ready to start unlocking second chances for people with a criminal record, because our state’s citizens understand the costs of a high recidivism rate. If we truly want to lower our recidivism and crime rates, let’s give people a fair opportunity to get back on their feet. It’s much cheaper to help someone find a job than to reincarcerate them. Remember, the vast majority of incarcerated men and women in our state will be released. Unlocking second chances saves taxpayers money and reduces the recidivism rate by keeping men and women out of prison, stimulates the economy by getting former prisoners back to work, and develops safer, flourishing communities. Let’s build a culture of second chances in Alabama that reflects the God-given dignity and potential of all individuals. Cam Ward, a Republican, represents the 14th District in the Alabama State Senate.

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CWACO Announces Jemison Park Grant

Clanton Advertiser

It has been about a year since the Cawaco Resource Conservation and Development Council awarded Jemison City Park with a grant to fund park improvements, and on April 11, Cawaco RC&D and its supporters returned to survey the impact.

Cawaco RC&D supports education and community development projects across Central Alabama.

“We appreciate the money, and have done the best we could with it,” Commissioner Steve Langson said.

Present for the announcement were Senator Cam Ward, Representatives Jimmy Martin and April Weaver, Programs Manager Patti Pennington, Langston and City Administrator Shannon Welch.

Since the park received the $5,000 check, it has added a portable softball fence, replaced the wood in the ballpark dugout and bleachers and upgraded the press box, according to Langston.

“Then we put some stuff in the park down under the trees, just for a little bit of [aesthetic] purposes,” he said.

“Y’all took a little money and went a long way with it,” Drayton Cosby of Cawaco RC&D said.

Langston said the portable softball fence has had the greatest impact.

“It gives the kids a place to play ball,” he said. “This really, really helps the young ladies in this area.”

The park would like to steadily upgrade, according to Langston

“If possible, we would like to upgrade our fencing because [of] the age,” Langston said. “We would like to do some stuff to the pavilion area, and just make it nicer.”

Pennington advised the park to select priority projects and the determined the steps needed to complete them, “and give us a step of that.”

“Our grant cycle is still open, and parks and recreation is still one of our top priorities,” she said.

For more information about Cawaco RC&D, visit cawaco.org.

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