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  • Writer's pictureAlex Nelson

Alabama to increase parole and pardon hearings, easing backlog of 8,500 requests

Under the leadership of recently appointed director, Cam Ward, the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles is quickly addressing some of the long-standing problems within the agency. In a Thursday press release, the ABPP announced that the parole board will add additional meeting days to address the backlog of unprocessed hearing requests.

“We want to make sure everyone who is eligible for a pardon hearing is receiving a hearing in the most efficient way possible. We are willing to work as hard as possible to accomplish this goal,” said Ward in a statement.

Currently, the board, which decides whether prisoners are granted parole or pardon, convenes three times a week. The Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday meetings typically cover a range of agenda items related to the agency. During the added meeting sessions, the board members plan to review a “special docket” that exclusively features pardon and parole requests.

According to the Bureau’s Board Operations division, the agency is facing a backlog of about 8,500 pardon requests.

In the ABPP’s official press release, Leigh Gwathney, chair of the Board of Pardons and Paroles, acknowledged that the schedule changes and increased processing of hearing requests will benefit Alabama citizens.

“The Board of Pardons and Paroles looks forward to partnering with the Bureau of Pardons and Paroles in order to best serve the citizens of Alabama by hearing as many cases as possible while fulfilling our primary duty of protecting the public’s safety,” said Gwathney.

The American Civil Liberties Union has been a vocal critic of the agency’s performance. In January 2020, the ACLU released a report documenting overcrowding in Alabama’s prisons and exacerbating factors such as the extensive backlog at the Board of Pardons and Paroles.

“In 2018, the agency averaged 600 hearings per month, while approximately 150 hearings were scheduled for January 2020. In November and December 2019, the board granted parole to only 17 people, denying release to 92 percent of eligible people,” the ACLU reports.

Alabama’s prisons are disproportionately populated by Black men, comprising over half of the total number of prisoners in the state with 12,654. White men make up the second largest segment of Alabama prisoners at 9,894. White women rank third with a population of 1,570 and there are 543 Black women in the state’s prisons.

For parole requests in FY2020, Alabama has a 78 percent denial rate. The majority of parole and pardon requests heard by the board so far in 2021 have been denied.

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