Alabama lawmakers advance bill letting inmates speak at parole hearings

A legislative committee on Thursday advanced a bill to allow state inmates, for the first time, to speak by phone or video conference at their parole hearings.

The House Judiciary Committee approved the bill after adding an amendment to give victims and law enforcement officials the option to also participate by electronic means instead of driving to Montgomery for the parole hearing.

The bill, which was approved in the Senate without a dissenting vote, now moves to the Alabama House of Representatives to be considered in the final three days of the legislative session.

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Alabama is one of two states that do not allow inmates to speak at parole hearings.

“SB 312 gives the incarcerated inmate the ability to participate in the hearing and more importantly, it gives the Parole Board another opportunity or an opportunity to question that inmate,” Republican Sen. Will Barfoot, the bill sponsor, said.

Alabama Capitol in Montgomery

Exterior view of the Alabama State Capitol on March 22, 2020 in Montgomery, Alabama. (Taylor Hill/Getty Images)

The approval came after earlier disagreements over a proposal that would have weakened the bill by letting the Parole Board decide whether inmates could participate.

Wanda Miller, executive director of VOCAL, a victims advocacy group, said her organization opposes the bill because it believes the current system is adequate. Miller said victim advocacy groups had suggested the amendment to allow victims and law enforcement officials to also speak by phone or video conference.

Barfoot said that will make it easier for victims and law enforcement officials to participate in hearings instead of “driving sometimes three hours to sit through a 10- or 15-minute hearing.”

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If approved, the measure would become effective on Oct. 1.

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