New parolee return rate climbs
By John Davis
Sixteen percent of state inmates purged from the prison system in the past two years are finding their way behind bars again -- a 10-percent jump from a year ago.
In April 2003, the state began a program to accelerate the release of nonviolent criminals as a way to relieve prison overcrowding. Now more of these inmates than ever are returning to the system.
"We expect it (the recidivism rate) to grow even more," said Cynthia Dillard, assistant executive director of the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles.
In July of last year, the board reported that only 6 percent of the special docket inmates were returning to prison. That number has grown steadily and is catching up with the 22-percent return rate of parolees who were not fast-tracked.
The state has paroled 4,174 inmates through the program, and 679 have returned to prison.
The move to purge the prison system of nonviolent offenders meant a 31-percent increase in paroles last year, the second-highest increase in the nation.
"We had just an overwhelming lot of work," said Scott Perkins a probation and parole supervisor. "We were struggling just to keep our head above water."
By August of last year, the special docket paroles slowed to a trickle, but Pardons and Paroles still had to watch over all of the parolees, leading to the hiring of more officers.
"Our caseloads are still higher than we want them to be," Perkins said. The department oversees 39,923 probationers and 7,603 parolees.
"We're trying to get more and more into the rehabilitation mode," Perkins said.
The governor's office characterized the accelerated parole program as a short-term solution. The program did push the overall prison population down to 25,977 prisoners in October of last year, but inmate numbers are once again on the rise, hitting 27,585 in April.
During the last legislative session, some lawmakers moved to disband a special docket parole board, but the measure never made it to the governor's desk. Riley has said he's in favor of disbanding the special docket parole board if its work is done