D.A.: Early paroles ‘an outrage’

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 4, 2004

Greg Griggers waves the sheaf of papers in his hand. “I just think the people of this county need to know what’s going on,” he says.

Griggers is district attorney for the 17th Judicial Circuit, which includes Sumter, Greene and Marengo counties. The papers he is holding are notices from the state Board of Pardons and Paroles of upcoming parole hearings for inmates his office helped to convict.

He believes some of those proposed paroles border upon being a threat to public safety.

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Griggers is one of a growing number of district attorneys across Alabama who have expressed concern over the board’s willingness to release prisoners who have served an increasingly smaller fraction of their sentences.

According to Griggers, those early releases have increased dramatically since the defeat of last year’s Amendment One, Gov. Bob Riley’s proposed tax and reform package. “It’s gotten to the point now where it’s laughable. It’s ridiculous,” he says.

A number of DAs are scheduled to meet with Riley and members of the parole board Friday in Montgomery to discuss the situation.

Griggers selects a paper at random from the dozen or so in his hand. It concerns the case of a man sentenced to five years in prison for distributing crack cocaine. The board has set a hearing for March 30 to consider the man’s parole. He will have served a total of 62 days as of that date.

Griggers shakes his head. “After serving 62 days of a five-year sentence for distribution of crack cocaine, this board of parole wants to put him back on the street,” he says incredulously.

He shuffles the papers. “Here. Here’s another one,” he says.

The case involves a felony DUI conviction. The defendant, who was sentenced to a year and a day, is due to be considered for parole after having served a total of 55 days.

“This is a guy already convicted of DUI on at least four occasions,” Griggers fumes, “who’s already proved again and again that he cannot refrain from drinking and driving, who will soon be back on the streets for all of us to worry about.”

Another one. This, the case of a woman convicted of possession of a forged instrument and theft of property. Considered an habitual offender, the woman was sentenced to 15 years in prison. “This wasn’t her first rodeo,” Griggers notes drily. “She had three prior convictions.”

The woman is due to be considered for parole after having served just eight months of her 15-year sentence.

“I’ve got umpteen more I could show you,” Griggers says. “These are not cases from across the state. These are cases from right here in Marengo, Sumter and Greene counties.”

He says his office has received numerous such notifications involving drug cases in which defendants are being considered for parole after serving six months or less of a five- to 10-year sentence.

“If you can make as much money as some of these drug dealers do and serve six months or less, a lot of these people will just rat it out in prison for six months and then start all over when they get out,” he says.

Griggers points out that in seeking to slash the cost of caring for its burgeoning prison population the state is merely shifting much of that burden onto local jurisdictions, such as his office.

“They claim they don’t have the money to keep them incarcerated,” he says. “But that just runs our expenses up when we have to arrest and prosecute these same people again. Then they’ve also got to be handled by the court system, the jails — not to mention what they steal from you in the meantime. That’s why I feel it’s my job to let people know what’s going on.”

He adds that the early releases are having a demoralizing effect on law enforcement personnel at all levels.

“What is happening is an outrage,” declares Griggers. “What good are we accomplishing in getting these people off the streets if they’re going to turn around and let them back out in six months? You can’t help but ask yourself, why are we doing what we’re doing? You can bet that everyone of those guys out there wearing a uniform is wondering that, I guarantee you.”