Birmingham, Alabama’s dip in serious crime has come when Alabama prisons more than doubled the numbers of convicts streaming into the county, says the Birmingham News. That the parolees, many freed early, have not spawned a crime wave is welcome news but no surprise to people who work with them. Earl Johnson, house parent at Shepherd’s Fold, a halfway house, said, “If a man has a support group when he’s released from prison and has a place where he can be cushioned from the everyday stresses we are faced with, he is more likely to be successful.”
In April 2003, Alabama began speeding parole hearings for people convicted of nonviolent crimes. The goal was to bring relief to the prison system, beset by lawsuits and crowding problems. New U.S. Justice Department statistics show that the number of people on parole in Alabama jumped 31 percent in 2003, the second-highest increase in the country. It’s a trend followed in 17 states that saw double-digit increases in the number of people released from prison early to the supervision of parole officers. Alabama prosecutors predicted disastrous consequences from the speedy paroles. Overall, 6 percent of early parolees have returned to prison, either for new crimes or parole violations such as using drugs or alcohol of not reporting to their parole officers. “We know we can’t sustain that low number, but so far it’s unbelievably low,” said one official.