An Encounter with Alabama Pardons and Paroles
It is widely known that Alabama has one of the worst, if not the worst prison system in the nation. Built to hold 12,000 inmates it currently houses around 29,000. In the last two years two additional parole boards have been formed to expedite the release of non-violent drug and/or property offenders in order to comply with federal court rulings demanding that the overcrowding situation be dealt with. Both of those boards have since been disbanded because the Attorney Generals office claimed that all of the inmates who were eligible for early parole had been released.
However, since the draconian drug laws that land so many Alabamians in prison were not changed the same number of people went into prison as were released, thereby negating any positive effect the early paroles would have had.
Just two weeks ago yet another special parole board was formed called the "Prison Task Force" and once again their stated mission is to study the overcrowding situation and figure out a way to release as many non-violent offenders as possible.
No one is really sure what unknown and incredibly elusive mystery this board hopes to uncover about our prison crisis that the two former boards failed to discover on our dime.
But I know. So, I am going to expose this incredibly elusive mystery. Maybe it will save the members of this new "task force" some time and us taxpayers some money.
On May 23, 2005 I appeared before the regular Alabama Pardons and Paroles Board (not the new task force) at the D.O.C. building in Montgomery, Alabama to speak on behalf of my older brother. I'll give you as brief an outline as possible on why he is in prison. Again.
(Randy displays symptoms of all of the following conditions; paranoid schizophrenia, OCD, bi-polar disorder, borderline multiple personality disorder and he seems unable to exert any control whatsoever over his impulses...seems to be a slave to them in fact... I don't know what term the psychological professionals would use for that particular quirk in Randy's personality)
He has from a very early age seemed to be in utter misery in his unaltered state of mind.
Back in the late 70's when his problems began to make themselves known, mental health for children was not common or easily accessible in rural Alabama. I assume our parents thought that Randy was having trouble adjusting to the divorce and acting out as a result. Randy was never taken to a psychiatrist or psychologist to be evaluated and by the time it was apparent something was wrong it was too late to save him from addiction. To date he has never been properly evaluated, diagnosed or treated for the underlying mental illnesses so he has only gotten worse.
This led to
2. Early experimentation and self-medication with mind altering substances (alcohol, pot, tobacco at the age of 9)
This led to
3.Severe alcoholism (including drinking rubbing alcohol strained through loaf bread, aftershave and mouthwash when nothing else was available), drug addiction (no specific drug...just whatever was handy and in copious amounts...there have been a number of hospitalizations, stomach pumpings and stays in CCU due to overdose.)
And these things of course led to a criminal record. DUI's, petty theft, pot possession.
All non-violent offenses.
Since his mid-teens Randy has been institutionalized in one way or another. He entered the Presbyterian Group Home in Talladega, Alabama at the age of 13. He and my brother wound up there as a result of the divorce and my mother being unable to care for all four children on her own.
He has been in and out of rehab clinics (mostly state run ones and the occasional mid-rate that mom's insurance would pay for), AA, halfway houses, state run mental health programs, jail and in 1996 he entered the Alabama prison system for the first time. His crime was alcohol related. All of his crimes are alcohol related.
Randy was allowed to enter the work release program at Kilby prison because his crime was non-violent and he was considered low risk.
One would think that work release would be designed to help a person learn a job skill for when they are released. After all, we want to do everything we can to help them not return to prison.
We want to keep them away from the things that landed them in prison, not place them directly in the line of temptation when we are supposed to be "correcting" them and punishing them.
For instance, we would reasonably expect the prison system not to place a child molester on work release at a daycare center or a bank robber in a teller window or a wife beater in a women's shelter.
But for some reason they placed my alcohol-addicted brother in a work release program where his job was to load 18-wheelers with cases of Budweiser.
No I am not kidding.
He lasted one day and walked off with a case under each arm, got rip-roaring, piss drunk and then peacefully turned himself in when he ran out of beer.
He was taken off work release and placed in the general population for the next four years.
Randy was released in 2000 and was back in the county jail before one year had passed on another alcohol related incident. This pattern continued until he was stopped for running a stop sign and found to have an open container of beer, charged with DUI and subsequently sentenced to 1 year in the county jail on a felony DUI conviction.
He was scheduled to get out in February of 2005 but in January he was caught with a can of Copenhagen in his cell and charged with promoting prison contraband. He was also found to have been drinking while out on a pass. He came back smelling of alcohol and came up positive on a breathalyzer.
The judge dropped the promoting prison contraband charge but charged him with the drinking and sentenced him to ten years in prison.
Randy came up for parole this week and I went with his wife (who is disabled) to the parole board hearing.
As a Libertarian I believe the government has no business attempting to fix people's personal problems. But since the government insists on using taxpayer money to address my brother's alcoholism I feel it is the least I could do to suggest that the money be spent in a way which has a chance of achieving positive results.
Before I went I called a friend of mine who works in the mental health and drug courts in Alabama and asked if there was a program we could get Randy into if he was granted parole. I told my friend Randy's history and my friend told me that their program would provide him a place at The Fellowship Halfway House, vocational rehab and extensive mental health evaluation, counseling and the proper medications along with whatever else was needed to help him start down the road to recovery.
It isn't very often that families are given that kind of ammo when going before the parole board. Generally family members get up and say, "My relative is so much better now, they have changed, found God, and they will do right" in response to the parole board members questions.
But, I had decided that I wasn't going to do that. Lying was not going to help Randy. He had told his wife to please have him a case of Busch beer iced down when she came to pick him up from prison upon his release. Just like every other time he had been released from rehab or prison he planned to be drunk before he got home. And I wanted this time to be different. I wanted to do the right thing and use whatever resources at my disposal to help my brother. So I decided to tell the parole board the truth about Randy.
Finally we were called into the chamber to address the parole board. Randy's wife asked me to go first because she was nervous. I went to the podium and introduced myself .
The first member asked me how I thought my brother was doing and what changes he had made to better himself while in prison.
I said, "I talked to Randy last night and he told me that he is in the SAP (substance abuse program) at Limestone and it seems to be going fine. But I am going to be honest with you today about my brother and what I think needs to be done to help him. Randy has already been through the SAP program and it didn't help last time. In fact, Randy has been in the Alabama Department of Corrections for almost half of his life and yet he has not been corrected."
At that point the lead questioner pushed back from his seat looking all offended and outraged at my truthfulness and said, "That is not a defense."
To which I responded, "I wasn't mounting it as a defense just stating a fact. Randy has been in your corrections system many times before and he is still not correct. The truth is you could keep Randy in prison for the entire ten years of his sentence and on the day you released him he would be drunk before he got home. My brother has serious mental problems that have never been properly treated and as long as we are wasting resources on locking him up he will never get any better. I am not going to stand here and tell you that my brother should be released today without supervision and aftercare, or that I think he is miraculously cured after this latest stint in prison because that won't help him.
My brother needs help and he is not going to get it where he is. We need to focus our resources on treating his mental illnesses and stop wasting them on sending him to prison when that has already failed numerous times in the past."
"I have arranged for him to go to TASC in Birmingham upon his release where he will be provided with the mental health care he needs, vocational rehab and transitional housing. I would like to see him complete the SAP program and then be released to the TASC program in August when he comes back up for parole."
I took my seat at this point and his wife addressed the board for a couple of minutes. She was very nervous and didn't really say anything that would help or hurt his chances.
The parole board then deliberated for approximately 30 seconds and said parole was denied and not only that but instead of considering Randy again in August as is normally the case that they were not going to consider him again until December.
So, there you have it. Here was the perfect opportunity to cut the prison overcrowding by one more, and not by just letting Randy (a non-violent offender whose only crimes are mental illness and severe addiction) out to return home with no aftercare, thereby almost guaranteeing his return to prison, but, by releasing him to a very good program where we might actually begin to get to the root of his problems and give him the tools he has needed for so long to get his life in order and keep him out of the corrections system. Yet his parole was not only denied but delayed an additional four months.
I can only guess that the truth pissed off the parole board, as they had no good reason to deny my brother parole especially with such an excellent aftercare program in place.
The perfect opportunity and the parole board blew it.
With a parole board like this in place it is no wonder we have almost 30,000 in prison most of which are likely as mentally ill as my brother.