The Legislature’s decision this spring to cut the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles’ budget 43 percent will mean higher caseloads for parole and probation officers unless funding is restored, the Bureau reported Friday.
Bureau General Counsel Meridith Barnes told the Alabama Sentencing Commission Friday the agency projects needing to hire 116 new parole and probation officers. Currently, Alabama’s 300 parole and probation officers supervise more than 27,000 offenders.
The Legislature cut the Bureau’s General Fund appropriation by 43 percent this spring, from nearly $49 million to $27.9 million.
The budget cuts also mean the Bureau will not be able to move forward with adding new Day Reporting Centers in Calhoun County, Baldwin County and the Wiregrass area. The Day Reporting Centers are crucial in the effort to reduce recidivism in the Alabama corrections system. The DRCs provide probationers and parolees more intensive supervision and give them access to a variety of reentry services such as cognitive behavioral therapy, intensive drug treatment and counseling and adult education services.
The Bureau’s 300 officers work throughout Alabama to help keep the public safe from crime while helping offenders transition to productive and healthy lives in their communities. The officers are supervising more than 27,000 Alabama offenders who are active parolees and probationers, including nearly 9,000 violent offenders.
In addition, the Bureau’s officers supervise, through the Interstate Compact, more than 3,600 offenders from other states who currently reside in Alabama.
Barnes told the sentencing commission that 79 percent of the Alabama clients the Bureau supervises were granted probation by judges throughout the state. Sixteen percent of the Alabama offenders are parolees who were granted release from prison by the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles.
Of the 6,078 parolees being supervised, 58 percent are violent offenders, some requiring intensive supervision.
Bureau Director Charlie Graddick has said in addition to hiring the 116 additional officers to bring down the offender caseload for each officer, the Bureau needs to hire 42 specialists for field offices to handle caseload paperwork to free up officers to spend more time in the field supervising offenders.
When Judge Graddick took over the leadership of the Bureau on Sept. 1, 2019, he found he had inherited what he called “a complete mess.” He found a lack of leadership, a long-standing neglect of employees and their needs, a failure to properly implement laws passed by the Legislature in 2015 and 2019 that affected the agency, and low morale across the Bureau.
Prior to Gov. Kay Ivey’s appointment of Judge Graddick, the Governor and the Attorney General’s Office collaborated with the State Personnel Department to engage Kenning Consulting to evaluate the Bureau from top to bottom. During that 2019 evaluation, the Legislature passed a new law that separated the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles’ functions from that of the director. As a result, the Board became an independent decision-making body for paroles and pardons. The law also restricted early initial parole consideration.
The consulting review recommended reworking internal policies and procedures to give local managers guided, delegated authority, and recommended additional funding for the agency, primarily to invest in expanding and equipping the workforce to reduce caseloads for officers.
Judge Graddick began a complete overhaul to address these issues and streamline operations. He said it has been a “difficult and slow process but we are beginning to see success.”
The Bureau has acquired much-needed equipment for the officers in the field to protect their safety and that of the public. The equipment includes new vehicles for officers that are appropriate for the terrain they must navigate to perform their jobs and that are equipped with basic law enforcement packages such as police lights, protective compartments in the back seat for transporting offenders, computers and other technology. The new equipment provided to officers also includes phones and radios.
The Bureau has improved what Judge Graddick called “deplorable facilities,” including relocating the agency’s largest field office in Birmingham, which had been moved outside of the proper jurisdiction by the prior administration to Shelby County, back to Jefferson County. The Bureau also relocated a field office with sewage leaking through the ceiling and other issues in North Alabama.
In addition, the Bureau has developed and improved internal policies and training in all areas and has put into effect new administrative rules, including parole guidelines and applications for pardons and voting rights to streamline those processes where significant backlogs were inherited. The agency also restructured merit system classifications and pay scales so that employees have access to more and better job opportunities and advancement.
The Bureau also improved internal and external communication to keep employees and the public informed.
Judge Graddick said “the progress would not have been possible had funds not been available from the prior administration’s failure to use them to hire additional personnel and equip the agency.” Those carryover funds have now either been spent or encumbered, with only a relatively small percentage left for fiscal year 2021.
Even with the remaining carryover of $13 million, the Bureau will still be about $20 million short of needed funding beginning Oct. 1.