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Alabama General Prison Talk, Introductions & Chit Chat Topics & Discussions relating to Prison & the Criminal Justice System in Alabama that do not fit into any other Alabama subforum. Please feel free to also introduce yourself to other members in the state and talk about whatever topics come to mind in addition to prison.

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Old 12-02-2003, 07:42 AM
DeniseJJ DeniseJJ is offline
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Post State inmates win early release

State inmates win early release

15 prisoners OK'd by new parole panel


News staff writer

MONTGOMERY - Thanks to Alabama's bulging prisons and bleeding budget, a few drug addicts and thieves are on their way home early.

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A second panel of the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles met for the first time Monday, approving 15 prisoners for parole. The board denied 24 prisoners and continued one hearing.

Those approved include a man with a math degree who tutored fellow inmates toward their high school equivalency diplomas, a father of three who got entangled with drugs after his wife died in a car accident and a 29-year-old prisoner whose mother wished the board a Merry Christmas.

"Thank you for taking care of him for the time you had him," Emma Locke told the board before it approved parole for her son Damien Locke, who has served 10 years for burglary, robbery and drug possession.

Emma Locke and her daughter-in-law drove up from Point Clear near the coast and spent Sunday night in Montgomery in order to speak to the parole board. Prisoners do not attend or speak at their own hearings.

"We knew they had a new system and new people ... and we thought it would look bad if no one showed up to support him," Locke said.

The majority of prospective parolees are nonviolent and on a "special docket," so called because under normal conditions the prisoners would not yet be considered for parole. Lawsuits against the Department of Corrections and widespread crowding problems forced the state to speed paroles.

When voters turned down Gov. Bob Riley's tax proposal in September, the administration announced plans to relieve the prison crisis through early paroles for nonviolent inmates and drug offenders. Soon after, Riley appointed the new panel.

New members hearing cases Monday were acting chairman Cliff Walker of Bessemer, a former vice president at AmSouth Bank; Don McGriff of Montrose, a former Republican candidate for lieutenant governor; and Jennifer Mullins Garrett of Montgomery, a former attorney with the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals.

They will meet four days a week.

The original panel also is hearing cases.

With 27,000 prisoners, Alabama's prisons are about double capacity.

Officials have said 5,000 to 6,000 prisoners may be released early. There is no set number.

Relatives of about half the prospective parolees on Monday's docket showed up to speak, driving from spots across the state. No victims spoke against release to the new panel Monday, but eventually new members will also consider violent cases in which victims are allowed to testify, said Cynthia Dillard, assistant director of the board.

Statewide, the parole board is running a year behind schedule in considering paroles for violent offenders. The delay is caused by a state law requiring victims to be notified. Sometimes the victims have moved, changed names or are difficult to locate, Dillard said.

Those denied parole Monday include drug offenders who got their hands on more drugs while on work release and borderline cases whose sentences end next spring anyway.

"My son has had a long history of somehow being able to get off a little lighter and somehow hasn't discovered there are serious consequences to his actions, so I'm not here to try to get him paroled," said Melvin Smith of Andalusia, who described himself as a pastor with two sons in prison.

Smith said his son, Samuel Lee Smith, 38, in for drug crimes, misled him about Monday's activities, and he had no intention of asking for his son's release.

"I could provide him with work and I could provide him with a place to stay, but he already has that," Melvin Smith said.

Pleading for leniency:

Most of the relatives were there to plead for release.

James Lamar Phillips, 30, serving 35 years for stealing a car and receiving stolen property, got a break. Parole was granted, in part, because his aunt, a businesswoman from South Carolina, promised the board she'd give him a job in her carpet company.

"He's really changed. And if there's any way, I can be - not a crutch for him - but a helping hand," Cathy Walton told the board.

Parole board member Jennifer Garrett was generous with stern warnings for the relatives.

"He has no excuse for not being successful this time out, but if he is not successful, he's got major jail time in Alabama," Garrett told Walton and other members of Phillips' family.

Muscle Shoals resident Rhonda Bratton, 27, was supported by her parents, sister and Kate Richardson, of Aid to Inmate Mothers, a Montgomery organization that helps female parolees find jobs and housing.

"She's had problems with drugs and alcohol. She is not a violent offender," George Bratton said of his daughter, who would have been eligible for parole in January, but her date was moved up because of the special docket. "I had a problem 20 years ago, and I had to straighten myself out," George Bratton said.

His daughter is serving 15 years for theft and receiving stolen property.

Richardson found a spot for her at Birmingham's Aletheia House drug treatment center, where she will spend the next two years.

Larry O'Steen, serving 10 years for two burglaries and drug possession, also will get out early.

"Larry's not a danger to society. He was enrolled in a radiology program," said his brother-in-law Stephen Edwards of Gulf Shores.

O'Steen's family, too, received helpful hints from the board.

"If he comes back again, he's going to stay a long, long time," said board member Don McGriff.

"We'll be sure to tell him that," O'Steen's sister Lonna O'Steen said.
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