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Punishing Violence, Recognizing the Dignity of Work and the Possibility of Redemption

Police officers, sheriffs and district attorneys do heroic work every day to lock up criminals and keep our streets and neighborhoods safe. Yet many parts of our criminal justice system are broken, and layers of bureaucracy and a thicket of self-serving fees and outdated rules create barriers for people who have already paid their debt to society. Thankfully, in Alabama, a consensus of law-and-order conservatives and left-leaning liberals has begun to reform the system to make sure that justice is served swiftly, but fairly.

For instance, right now there are 783 places in Alabama’s laws and regulations where, if a person has committed a crime, they are forever barred from receiving various occupational licenses. Frankly, this is part of a larger problem where we have way too many layers of bureaucratic licensure requirements, many of which seemed designed to create barriers to entry for aspiring young workers, rather than actually protecting consumers.

For people who have served their full sentence, once justice has been done, they should be able to get a job to feed their family, contribute to society, and lessen the chance that they fall back into crime. Senate Bill 163, which the State Senate approved this last week by a 34-0 vote, says that once a person has served their full sentence and paid all restitution, they can petition a judge to obtain an order of limited relief — once obtained, an occupational licensing board or commission is prohibited from automatically denying a certification to someone who has such an order. The board or commission must give the case a fair hearing. This is conservative criminal justice reform that recognizes the dignity of work.i

On the civil litigation side, if you are wronged or injured, your day in court shouldn’t depend on whether you can pay a court’s processing fees, most of which are designed to cover internal court costs. That is a pay-to-play system where only the wealthy can afford to have their grievances heard. That’s why I am also sponsoring a bill that will allow a judge in civil cases to waive docket fees if a person before the court is in financial hardship. The State Legislature has a duty to adequately fund the courts, while the courts themselves, as much as possible, need to cut down on the number of fees that are assessed. A person of low means shouldn’t have to choose between paying a fee or having their case heard.

Along similar lines, nearly everyone (especially in rural areas) needs a car or truck to get to work and school. Currently, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) can suspend your driver’s license for failure to pay a traffic fine. That’s an especially harsh penalty for single mothers and the many people who are driving between towns to bus tables at lunch and unload freight at warehouses at night to make ends meet. I have filed SB16 to prevent ALEA from suspending drivers’ licenses if a judge has hard evidence that the person in question is indigent. We shouldn’t take away the ability to work from people over a traffic fine.

On the flip side, harsh and complete justice should be meted out to violent criminals. Yet over and over again, the State Board of Pardons and Paroles has made puzzling decisions to commute sentences or allow prison inmates to get out on parole, years before a full sentence has been served. That failure of duty by the Board has had tragic consequences. In July of 2018, Jimmy O’Neal Spencer was charged with the brutal killings of Martha Dell Reliford, 65, Marie Kitchens Martin, 74, and Martin’s 7-year-old great-grandson. Spencer, a man with a violent rap sheet going back to the early 1980s, had been granted parole by the Board in November of 2017 and released from prison in January.

Working with Governor Kay Ivey and Attorney General Steve Marshall, I have written a bill that will rein in the Board — if SB42 is approved, all Class A felons (these are rapists, murderers, drug kingpins, and human traffickers) will be ineligible for parole until 85% of their sentence or 15 years has been served. The members of the Board of Pardons and Paroles haven’t abided by their own guidelines. This bill, should it become law, will force them to toe the line.

Cam Ward represents District 14 in the Alabama State Senate, which includes all or parts of Shelby, Bibb and Chilton counties. He
serves as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Follow him on Twitter: @SenCamWard

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DOJ Finds Alabama Prisons Violate 8th Amendment

Montgomery, Alabama- The U.S. Department of Justice announced today there is reasonable cause to believe conditions in Alabama prisons violate the Constitution in a report that includes jolting accounts of violence and death inside the crowded and dangerously understaffed facilities.

The DOJ’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Northern, Middle, and Southern Districts of Alabama released the results of a statewide investigation launched two and a half years ago.

The DOJ concluded that there is reasonable cause to believe that conditions in men’s prisons violate the Eighth Amendment because of a failure to protect prisoners from prisoner-on-prisoner violence and prisoner-on-prisoner sexual abuse, and a failure to provide prisoners with safe conditions. The report said Alabama prisons have the highest homicide rate in the nation and that violence has increased dramatically in the last five and a half years.

“The violations are severe, systemic, and exacerbated by serious deficiencies in staffing and supervision; overcrowding; ineffective housing and classification protocols; inadequate incident reporting; inability to control the flow of contraband into and within the prisons, including illegal drugs and weapons; ineffective prison management and training; insufficient maintenance and cleaning of facilities; the use of segregation and solitary confinement to both punish and protect victims of violence and/or sexual abuse; and a high level of violence that is too common, cruel, of an unusual nature, and pervasive,” the report says.

Alabama prisons have about one-third the number of authorized correctional officers and several prisons have fewer than 20 percent of authorized staff, the report said.

Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, who has led criminal justice reform efforts in the Legislature, said the state has 49 days to provide a response to the findings. Ward said he expects the Legislature’s prison oversight committee to be the forum to work on the issues and expects meetings to begin as early as next week. Ward said DOJ officials met with him and other state officials on Tuesday and showed them the report. He said it was not surprising but added new urgency to the need to improve state prisons.

“The governor, the attorney general, the leadership in the House and the Senate, we were all in one room when were presented with this,” Ward said. “So, we’re all on the same page in trying to get it fixed.”

The report says the U.S. attorney general may initiate a lawsuit in 49 days to correct deficiencies if state officials have not adequately addressed them.

The federal agency had announced in October 2016 that it would investigate the issues.

The investigation was conducted under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, CRIPA. The DOJ said CRIPA investigations of other correctional systems have led to reforms through settlement agreements with those systems.

The DOJ said it has given the state written notice of the facts supporting the allegations the minimum steps needed to address them.

“The Constitution guarantees all prisoners the right to be housed in safe conditions and not be subjected to violence and sexual abuse,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division said in the press release. “Our investigation found reasonable cause to believe that Alabama fails to provide constitutionally adequate conditions and that prisoners experience serious harm, including deadly harm, as a result. The Justice Department hopes to work with Alabama to resolve the Department’s concerns.”

U.S. Attorney Richard Moore of the Southern District of Alabama said in a statement the findings indicate a “flagrant disregard” for the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishments.

“The failure to respect the rule of law by providing humane treatment for inmates in Alabama prisons is a poor reflection on those of us who live and work in Alabama," Moore said. "We are better than this. We do not need to tarry very long assessing blame, but rather commit to righting this wrong and spare our State further embarrassment."

Northern District U.S. Attorney Jay Town said: “This massive undertaking alleges constitutional troubles in the Alabama Department of Corrections which are serious, systemic, and in need of fundamental and comprehensive change. That being said, I have great confidence in the State of Alabama’s resolve to correct the prison system’s problems. The commitment by Governor Ivey, Commissioner Dunn, and so many others in the State’s leadership to affirmatively address these inherited issues offers great promise of our development of a meaningful remedy.”

Middle District U.S. Attorney Louis V. Franklin Sr., said: “An extraordinary amount of time and effort was expended to investigate this matter. Although the results of this investigation are disturbing, I look at this as an opportunity to acknowledge that the problems are real and need to be addressed immediately. We are committed to working with State officials to ensure that the Department of Corrections abides by its constitutional obligations.”

As evidence of the dangers inside Alabama prisons, the report recounts incidents during a single week in September 2017.

In a dorm at Bibb Correctional Facility known as the “Hot Bay,” with limited supervision and no programming, two inmates stood guard watching for correctional staff while other inmates stabbed a prisoner who bled to death.

At St. Clair Correctional Facility, a prisoner in the honor dorm was beaten by two other inmates with a sock filled with metal locks. At Staton prison, an inmate threatened an officer with a seven-inch knife. At Fountain, an inmate set another’s blanket on fire while he was sleeping. At Easterling, a prisoner was forced at knife point to perform oral sex on two others. And a prisoner at Bullock died from an overdose of a synthetic cannabinoid.

Those were just some of the incidents found in ADOC records from that single week that were described in the report.

For years, Alabama prisons have housed far more inmates than they were built for and employed too few correctional officers. Alabama Department of Corrections officials said the crowding and understaffing contribute to rising violence in prisons.

A spike in inmate suicides is one of the issues that has surfaced in a federal lawsuit over health care for inmates. U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ruled in 2017 that mental health care for inmates was “horrendously inadequate.” The ADOC is under court orders to increase mental health staff and security staff.

Gov. Kay Ivey issued a statement this morning in response to the DOJ’s findings.

“We appreciate the U.S. Department of Justice’s efforts to ensure open lines of communication with the State of Alabama. DOJ has identified many of the same areas of concern that we have discussed publicly for some time,” Ivey said. “Over the coming months, my Administration will be working closely with DOJ to ensure that our mutual concerns are addressed and that we remain steadfast in our commitment to public safety, making certain that this Alabama problem has an Alabama solution.”

The governor’s office said the Alabama Department of Corrections already acknowledged many of the issues in the DOJ’s findings letter and has been working to address them.

The Legislature has increased funding for prisons, partly in response to Thompson’s ruling. Ivey has asked the Legislature for a $40 million increase next year, with much of that money intended to help recruit 500 correctional officers. The court has ordered the ADOC to add about 2,000 correctional officers over the next few years, a number taken from an ADOC analysis of staffing needs.

Today’s DOJ report says the warden at Holman Correctional Facility told investigators she had “probably 11” security staff per shift at the prison, which has about 800 inmates.

U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham, called the DOJ findings "deeply disturbing."

“No human being should be made to live in conditions that are both inhumane and outright unconstitutional,” Sewell said in a statement. "I urge Gov. Ivey and the state legislature to work with federal authorities to make substantial changes to address the report’s findings and foster an environment of rehabilitation, rather than one that perpetuates a cycle of trauma and violence.”

Over about the last five years, sentencing guidelines and criminal justice reforms enacted by the Legislature have reduced the prison population but it is still about 160 percent of the number prisons were built to hold.

The DOJ report says that occupancy in the state’s 13 major prisons is about 182 percent of capacity excluding work release and other facilities. In November 2018, Kilby Correctional Facility had 1,407 inmates in a facility designed for 440, and occupancy rate of 320 percent.

In February, Ivey announced her administration planned to seek proposals from companies to build three men’s prisons and close most of the existing facilities. ADOC officials say it would cost too much to fix the state’s aging prisons and that consolidating most of the prison operations in modern facilities will be cost effective, make prisons safer and allow for better rehabilitation, education and health care for inmates. An initial estimate placed the cost of new prisons at about $900 million.

In 2014, the Justice Department found conditions at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women were unconstitutional because of a failure to protect inmates from sexual abuse and harassment by male staff.

The Justice Department and the ADOC reached a settlement in 2015intended to address the problems at Tutwiler. ADOC officials said conditions at the prison have improved.


Today’s notification, which is about men’s prisons, concerned two of three areas covered by the investigation, whether prisoners were protected from violence and sexual abuse by other inmates and whether conditions were safe. A third remains pending, the DOJ said -- whether prisoners are adequately protected from excessive use of force by prison staff and sexual abuse by prison staff.

The report says the investigation included site visits to four prisons -- Donaldson, Bibb, Draper and Holman -- and interviews with prisoners at several others. It says investigators interviewed hundreds of prisoners and about 55 ADOC staffers.

Investigators received hundreds of emails from prisoners and family members to an email account set up for the investigation.

The report says the ADOC publicly reported 24 inmate homicides between January 2015 and June 2018. It says investigators identified three additional homicides that were not reported as homicides.

“These unreported homicides provide reasonable cause to believe that ADOC’s homicide rate is higher than what ADOC has publicly reported," the report says. “There are numerous instances where ADOC incident reports classified deaths as due to ‘natural’ causes when, in actuality, the deaths were likely caused by prisoner-on-prisoner violence. This is especially concerning given that these incident reports are used for public statistical reporting as required by law.”

The report cites incidents that investigators said indicate prison officials cannot protect inmates even when they have warning. It says an inmate at Bullock was killed by blunt force head trauma in February 2018 one day after warning the prison’s shift commander that he had been threatened over the loss of a cell phone. The same month, an inmate at St. Clair was killed in a knife fight with another inmate who had three previous prison incidents involving knives.

In March 2018, an inmate at Donaldson was hospitalized and had emergency surgery after a broomstick was inserted into his rectum, the report says.

“This incident is just one of hundreds of similar incidents that are documented by ADOC throughout Alabama’s prisons," the report says. "Prisoner-on-prisoner violence is systemic and life-threatening. ADOC is failing to adequately protect its prisoners from harm, in violation of the Eighth Amendment.”

The report says extortion of prisoners and family members is common. The mother of a prisoner at Ventress reported that her son was beaten and threatened with rape for failure to pay an alleged $600 debt to another prisoner. The mother later reported that a prisoner at Ventress texted her photos of a prisoner’s genitals from a cell phone and threatened to chop her son into pieces and rape him if she did not send him $800.

Dangerous and illegal drugs are prevalent in Alabama prisons, the report says. ADOC employees are not screened for contraband, the report says.

The report concludes with a list of remedial measures.

One is to add 500 correctional officers within six months. Another is to commission a study within six months to determine the feasibility of transferring prisoners to non-ADOC facilities in sufficient numbers that remaining prisoners will be adequately supervised.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lane Woodke, Jason Cheek, and Carla Ward from the Northern District of Alabama Civil Division helped to lead the statewide investigation.


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Shelby Legislative Delegation Addresses Chamber

HOOVER – Alabama lawmakers representing Shelby County gave the local business community an idea of what to expect in the upcoming session during the Legislative Preview sponsored by The Shelby County Chamber on Thursday, Feb. 21.

Legislators at the event, which was held at Jefferson State Community College’s Shelby-Hoover Campus, said funding for infrastructure improvements would likely be the most talked about topic.

Rep. April Weaver (R-Brierfield) was the first legislator to speak and the first to mention a possible package for infrastructure.

As chairwoman of the Health Committee, Weaver said she would like to see legislation passed that would allow nurses to work in a compact arrangement that would make their licenses effective in 32 states instead of one—a measure that could help with a nationwide shortage of nurses.

Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) brought up the infrastructure package for a second time.

“The infrastructure is going to be the biggest part of our session,” Ward said.

As chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Ward said he wants to address legislation that would make it easier for former inmates to find work. “That sounds elementary, but I promise you it’s making a big difference in reducing our crime rate,” Ward said.

Rep. Jim Carns (R-Birmingham) said that while he lives in Jefferson County and is chairman of the Jefferson County delegation, he also represents part of Shelby County and sees the positive things happening here. “I look forward to serving you,” Carns said. “I look forward to working with you in the next year.”

Rep. Matt Fridy (R-Montevallo), an attorney himself, said he would seek in the upcoming session to address “case driving,” which is when attorneys solicit clients who have already signed agreements with other attorneys. Fridy said he would also like to see college campuses designated as free speech zones. “We’re going to treat each other civilly, and we’re going to treat each other well,” he said.

Rep. Corley Ellis (R-Columbiana) said the funds sheriffs use to feed inmates at county jails could be a topic for legislation. Leftover funds have been used for unrelated purposes in the past. Though Ellis said he worked with Shelby County Sheriff John Samaniego to avoid any problems locally, he said he would like to see a permanent state-wide solution.

Sen. Jim McClendon (R-Springville) told attendees about receiving an email warning him to not vote for a tax increase to fund infrastructure improvements. “Welcome to the Legislature,” McClendon said. McClendon said he sponsored a recent bill banning texting while driving but will seek to go further this session. “Unfortunately, enforcement was essentially ineffective,” he said, because law enforcement officers could not determine if a driver was texting or using a phone for legal purposes such as making a call. But the Legislature could consider a bill to ban using a phone for any reason while driving.

McClendon said he will also sponsor a bill to give residents a chance to vote on instituting a lottery, with half the money generated going into the General Fund and the other half to the Education Fund.

Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Birmingham) said he has enjoyed working with local government agencies—such as the ones representing Pelham, Helena, Alabaster and Shelby County.“The joy of this job has been the opportunity to work with people outside the Legislature,” he said.

The newest member of the delegation, Sen. Dan Roberts (R-Birmingham), said the creation of The Shelby County Chamber was his first opportunity to work with local officials.“It’s truly a light for the rest of the state to see how we can work together,” Roberts said and also touched on the topics of telemedicine and payday lending.

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Ward to Again Head Judiciary Committee

MONTGOMERY, Ala – Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) has been chosen to once again chair the powerful Judiciary Committee in the Alabama State Senate. 

Under Ward’s leadership, the Legislature in 2015 passed a historic reform of the state’s criminal justice system, with the aim of gradually reducing Alabama’s over-crowded prisons by shuttling some non-violent offenders towards rehabilitation programs.

“We have made a lot of strides with criminal justice reform, but we still have a long ways to go. We have to continuously innovate and use smart, data-driven approaches to figure out ways to keep recidivism as low as possible,” Ward said. “Criminal justice reform is an area where Republicans and Democrats actually agree on a lot, as evidenced by the fact that Cory Booker and Ted Cruz both voted for President Trump’s First Step Act, which I think is a smart reform of the federal sentencing guidelines.”

Ward will also serve on the following Senate committees in the new legislative term: Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development; Confirmations; Finance and Taxation—General Fund; and Healthcare. 

“The Republican majority has accomplished some huge conservative reforms over the past few years. Thanks to a strong commitment to fiscal responsibility, proration hasn’t happened once to Alabama’s schools since 2011, and we have passed a historic pro-life constitutional amendment, to cite just two examples,” Ward said. “In this new legislative term, I look forward to working with other legislators and Governor Ivey to tackle some of the remaining big challenges facing our state, like infrastructure modernization, continued prison reform and adequately funding public safety.”

In 2018, Ward sponsored a law that increased penalties for trafficking and distributing fentanyl, an extremely powerful synthetic opioid that claimed the lives of 157 Alabamians in 2016, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Ward is entering his ninth year as President of the Alabama Law Institute, which is housed in the Law Center Building at the University of Alabama. The purpose of the Institute is to “clarify and simplify the laws of Alabama, to revise laws that are out-of-date and to fill in gaps in the law where there exists legal confusion,” according to its mission statement

The 2019 regular session of the Alabama Legislature will start on March 5th.


Republican Senator Cam Ward represents District 14 in the Alabama State Senate. Follow him on Twitter: @SenCamWard

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Senator Proposes Bill to Make it Easier for Former Inmates to Get a Job

A proposed new law could improve public safety and save tax dollars, all while repealing a chunk of the Alabama state constitution.

“We have over 783 places in the code of Alabama that places restrictions on people from getting an occupation, getting a job in a profession,” said Ward. “And it goes all across the spectrum. Just because someone committed a crime one time, now they’re no longer able to get a job.”

“The whole idea when someone gets out of prison- we want them to get a job,” Ward said. “We want them to pay taxes. We want them to be productive citizens and not a public safety risk.”

Fredrick Sherill understands how difficult the job search can be after prison. He got out of prison in September, after serving time for a crime he committed as a teenager.

“My crime was armed robbery,” Sherill told us. “I did 15 years, day for day.”

In prison, Sherill says he worked hard to get his GED and learn refrigeration and air conditioning skills.

But, the job search has still been a challenge.

“It’s hard when you being released from prison after doing a lot of time and you’re trying to do the right thing in society and being a law abiding citizen and there’s constant road blocks,” Sherill said.

The Foundry is helping Sherill and others re-enter society. And now, Ward’s bill could also help.

“Some of the sillier things, for example, if you’ve ever been to prison in Alabama for anything, any crime whatsoever, you can’t be a karate instructor,” Ward explained. “You can’t get a license. That’s a stupid law and it’s just government run a muck.”

Ward says many jobs are affected.

“You can’t be an engineer,” he said. “You can’t be a certain pharmacist, line workers. You can’t be a utility worker. You can’t be a water meter inspector. Those are just a few of many many jobs out there that you can’t even get a license for. The government is not going to say you’ve got to hire these people. But they should at least be allowed to get a license and apply for a job, if someone wants to hire them.”

Ward says similar bills have passed in other states and they helped reduce recidivism rates.

Sherill also thinks it could help.

“Judge me based on my work ethic, not necessarily a bad decision I made 15 or 20, sometimes 25-30 years ago,” he said.

Ward acknowledges some restrictions are necessary and must remain. For example, he says a sex offender should not be able to work in a school.

Ward also stressed his bill would allow someone to get a license for a job, but the employers would still have the final say who they want to hire.

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ADOC: Staffing Shortages Leading to Violence

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Violence continues to plague Alabama’s prison system. This month, the Equal Justice Initiative classified Alabama’s prisons as some of the deadliest in the country.

The latest inmate death was reported on Dec. 2 at Holman Prison - a maximum security facility which houses some of the most violent inmates in the state. The Alabama Department of Corrections says Holman is operating with less than 50 percent of the required correctional staff.

DOC says it's required to have 195 security staff to cover all shifts at the prison, but only 72 officers cover an inmate population of 951.

“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," stated DOC spokesman Bob Horton in an email. “The proliferation of drugs and criminal activity inside prisons also contribute to an increase in violent incidents.”

WSFA 12 News witnessed the criminal activity and contraband behind the walls of Holman Prison firsthand. Through Facebook, we obtained a picture of Demaricous Mack, convicted of murder in Montgomery. He’s serving a life sentence in Holman Prison. The account had more than a dozen pictures of Mack posing throughout the prison, several showed Mack with a Little Caesars Pizza box, Popeyes chicken and an illegal cell phone.

Two Facebook live videos were also on the account. One showed two inmates who were likely high on the drug flakka, which has similar effects as bath salts, the second video showed a nearly 30 minute long prison boxing match where the public was wagering on the fights.

Montgomery District Attorney Daryl Bailey says he wasn't surprised to learn an inmate posting pictures of prison contraband with an illegal cell phone was prosecuted by his office.

“I can tell you who is running the Department of Corrections, the inmates are running the Department of Corrections,” Bailey said.

In fact, Bailey watched the video of the inmates seizing from flakka in real time after someone sent him a link.

“At one time there were 6,000 people watching,” Bailey said.

The video shows an inmate on the prison floor with his body contorted, the second inmate is babbling, upside down on a prison bed, unable to move his body. The prisoners are horsing around with the two inmates, and eventually both become conscious and begin to fight. At least four inmates are videoing the incident on cell phones.

“We need to start holding people accountable,” Bailey said. “How are they charging the cell phones? They are coming in from somewhere, this is like a frat house, not a prison.”

“One of the things I talk to kids about is how bad prison is and why you never want to go to prison,” Bailey said. “Then we have some of these folks who are on Facebook Live talking about how great prison is, look we have our cell phones, we can FaceTime, we can eat Popeyes chicken and Little Caesars Pizza, we can do drugs. What are we suppose to tell the kids now? It’s apparently one big party at the Alabama Department of Corrections.”

WSFA 12 News immediately sent our findings over to the Alabama Department of Corrections. Spokesman Bob Horton confirms the department launched an investigation.

“The Alabama Department of Corrections Investigations and Intelligence Division is aware of the inmate’s activity and is conducting a thorough investigation into the social media accounts and how the inmate obtained the cellphone and other contraband,” Horton stated in an email. “ADOC dispatched Correctional Emergency Response Teams (CERT) to the William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore where the teams conducted a search of the facility for contraband. During the search, the teams confiscated illegal contraband, to include cell phones, which were turned over to the Investigations and Intelligence Division.”

DOC did not respond to our specific questions regarding whether inmates were allowed to hold boxing matches, how many cell phones were seized or if any DOC employees were implicated.

Horton confirmed 4,241 cell phones were seized in 2016 and 3,883 cell phones were seized in 2017.

A month following our discovery, inmate Vaquerro Armstrong, 29, was fatally stabbed at Holman Prison. Hours later another inmate was critically injured after being stabbed in a subsequent fight. Following the two incidents, the CERT team seized makeshift weapons, illegal cell phones, drugs and other contraband.

The ADOC confirms it’s aggressively working to reverse these dangerous trends with short-term and long-term solutions.

Immediately prison officials moved 30 inmates to other facilities in an effort to mitigate violence inside Holman, and it’s increased staffing in its Investigation and Intelligence Division to prevent future violence and corruption.

“ADOC is developing a long-term plan that will revitalize the prison system’s infrastructure and lead to safer and more secure correctional facilities for both inmates and staff," Horton commented.

WSFA 12 News reached out to Sen. Cam Ward, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, and has been intimately involved in measures related to the ADOC. Ward says we can expect to see multiple bills regarding Alabama’s prison system, specifically one that would authorize the hiring of upwards of 2,000 corrections officers. That measure would cost the state around $40 million.

It’s a Class C felony for inmates to possess a cell phone, wireless communication device or computer, it’s also a Class C felony anyone to possess with the intent to deliver those devices to inmates.

If you are aware of an inmate with a cellphone or contraband, you can contact ADOC through their website or call 1-866-293-7799.

Copyright 2018 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.

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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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