ONEONTA, Ala. (WIAT) — Blount County District Attorney Pamela Casey says she was furious when she was notified on Monday that man convicted of drug trafficking and facing life in prison got out after five years.
According to Casey, it follows another case where a person convicted of murder who was sentenced to 24 years in prison was released on parole after 8 years.
Casey says such early paroles make it harder to convince victims that justice will be served and harder to obtain plea agreements from defendants.
“Essentially with the parole board allowing people out in just five years what they’ve become is they’ve become the prosecutor, they’ve become the judge and the jury, they’ve taken over our ability to have any discretion in handling cases,” Casey said..
In a fiery online post directed at State Senator Cam Ward, the Alabama Legislature, and Governor Bentley, Casey writes that the “prison system has become a joke” and blasts “so-called Prison Reform.”
The Blount County D.A. is calling on state leaders to enact truth in sentencing, meaning prisoners serve their full time behind bars.
“Essentially what the prison reform act has done and what the sentencing guidelines are doing is decreasing the number of people who are actually going into prison. We have an overcrowding problem. We all know that,” said Casey. “Let’s just assume we release all the non-violent offenders. I’m not for that, but if we release those people we’re still overcrowded. We’re still overcrowded. And when you’re releasing a murder after just 8 years and when you’re releasing someone who’s trafficking drugs who has a life sentence after only 5 years then who are you keeping? Who are you keeping?”
State Senator Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) issued the following statement in response to Casey’s remarks.
“While I have a great deal of respect for Pamela Casey and the work our state prosecutors do the case she is referring to has nothing to do with the recently adopted prison reform legislation. The case she prosecuted in 2011 was five years before prison reform was adopted and was a violent felony. This case was ruled upon under the old guidelines. The new guidelines only deal with non-violent offenders and does not allow anyone to be released early from prison regardless of the crime the committed. The legislature has not passed any legislation to release an offender early no matter what the crime, violent or non-violent. That is a decision for the Board of Pardon & Parole to make. I will continue to work with the District Attorneys Association and Victims Rights Advocates on their legislative agenda as I have every year.”
State Senator- District 14
Deputy Director of the Office of Prosecution Services Barry Matson says that the pressure to alleviate prison overcrowding could impact parole board decisions, but adds that the sentencing guidelines approved by state lawmakers don’t address parole for the offenses in question.
“It’s not so much a lack of truth in sentencing issue as it is a lack of common sense in parole issue,” said Matson.
“If a defendant can be paroled or released after 8 years of a 24 year sentence for the intentional murder of a human being and a defendant can be released after 5 years of a life sentence for a conviction of trafficking cocaine where he had 4 prior convictions one of which was for a felony assault then I don’t know what to tell victims anymore as a prosecutor because what was up is down and what was down is up because everything is upside down. Nothing makes sense anymore,” said Matson.
Meridith Barnes, General Counsel for the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles, says board members have a large volume of information about each case they consider and board members review it very carefully to make sure they are making the right decision. According to Barnes there are also a number of factors for the board to weigh in guidelines laid out by the Alabama Legislature, but board members are also able to use some of their own discretion on individual cases. Additionally, she says there’s a heightened emphasis on supervised reentry to reduce recidivism among parolees in Alabama.