Early release law goes into effect; 1 inmate freed from Cullman County Detention Center

Sheriff, new DA hold press conference

Cullman County District Attorney Champ Crocker, left, and Cullman County Sheriff Matt Gentry are seen at a press conference on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023. (Amy Leonard for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – A new state law, based on a bill passed by the Alabama Legislature in October 2021, which amended a law passed in 2015 as part of Alabama’s prison reform efforts, went into effect Tuesday,  much to the consternation of Cullman County Sheriff Matt Gentry and new Cullman County District Attorney and former defense attorney Champ Crocker. The new law enabled the release of 369 Alabama Department of Correction inmates. The two held a press conference in Crocker’s office on Thursday, Feb. 2. 

“We called this press conference today to make the public aware of an ongoing issue,” Crocker began. “We learned a few days ago of an impending mass release by the (Alabama) Department of Corrections of approximately 400 convicted offenders back into society. There are offenders from Cullman County and all over the state. Some of these are violent offenders, and part of the job of law enforcement is to educate the public and that’s why we’re here.” 

The law allows select inmates to complete their sentences while under supervised monitoring from the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles (ABPP). The early releases range from a period of three months to 12 months before the inmates’ original release dates. The goal, according to the ABPP, is to help inmates acclimate to life outside of jail while being supervised by a parole officer and electronic monitoring, at a minimum. 

Rep. Jim Hill, R-Moody, sponsored the 2021 bill in hopes of providing additional supervision to those exiting jails along with the safety net of electronic monitoring, which is reported to be over 70% effective statewide. The House voted to approve an amendment at the request of ABPP to allow the department more time to prepare for the additional supervision.   

“At the end of last week we, sheriffs across the state, received that information that inmates would be released on Jan. 31 en masse,” Gentry said. “On the list that came out then we had about 13 criminal offenders being released that were from Cullman County.” 

On the list of 369 inmates to be freed, five are listed as being from Cullman County. The one inmate from that list who was held at the Cullman County Detention Center, Adam Pace, was serving time for manufacturing and possession of a controlled substance.  

The names of all five inmates from Cullman, along with their original release dates, where housed and crimes are listed below: 

  • Dustyn Allred, July 2, 2023, Bibb County Correctional Facility- receiving stolen property, burglary, theft, possession of a controlled substance 
  • David Blair, June 25, 2023, Bibb County Correctional Facility- assault, murder 
  • John Blalock, May 4, 2023, Easterling Correctional Center, Barbour County- burglary, attempted rape 
  • Adam Pace, March 12, 2023, Cullman County Detention Center- manufacturing of a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance 
  • William Reynolds, Oct. 5, 2023, Stanton Correctional Facility, Elmore County- third-degree burglary 

(On Jan. 31, AL.com published the full list. You can read it here: www.al.com/news/anniston-gadsden/2023/01/these-are-the-369-alabama-prison-inmates-being-freed-in-mass-release.html.) 

During the press conference, Gentry referred to 13 inmates from Cullman County who are being released and later clarified that only one of the 13 was held at the Cullman County Detention Center. The rest are incarcerated in other counties. 

“The five names of the individuals released to the media met the criteria established by the Department of Corrections allowing that information to be given out. The other eight names that were included in the list received by the Cullman County Sheriff’s Office have not yet met that criteria,” he said. “The list of names received by the CCSO from the DOC was deemed ‘law enforcement sensitive’ by the DOC. The DOC instructed the CCSO NOT to release this information to the media due to operational security. Only one of the 13 was released from the Cullman County Detention Center.” 

As of Tuesday, less than 100 inmates had been released throughout Alabama’s 67 counties. Upon victim notification, the remaining inmates will be processed by ABPP, fitted with electronic ankle monitors and released. Under the law, electronic ankle monitoring is required for early release. 

“One of the things you can never put a price tag on is our citizens and our safety,” Gentry said. “There’s no amount of money worth a citizen losing their life. The thing that struck me on these 13 offenders was murder, rape, incest, sodomy, kidnapping, very violent criminals that would be released back into society. Anytime you see that that is not good for society.” 

While Gentry spoke of sexual crimes against children, those perpetrators are not eligible for early release. 

Speaking on the opportunities provided to inmates by the prison system, Gentry said, “There’s enough government programs in place within the prison systems. Just in our local jail we have 33 programs. We have a work release program just for our lower level criminal offenders. They get, guess what, since we’ve been in operation we get over $2 million in restitution that goes back to the victim of the crimes and it gives those offenders the opportunity to make money, and guess what, we have a plan with the business owners that they work for that when they leave they keep their jobs.” 

Both the district attorney and sheriff said they are eager to head to Montgomery in the coming months. 

“This spring myself and many other DAs from around the state will be in Montgomery promoting our crime package,” shared Crocker. “I’ll have more to say about that later, but we are looking to go to the Legislature with bills to keep the public safe.” 

Gentry said, “As the legislator (sic) meets this year we’re going to be fighting with the DAs to keep these criminal offenders in jail where they need to be. There’s no amount of satisfaction or government interference that would say, ‘This is a good idea to release these people back into society.’” 

Below are the requirements for early release and supervision by the ABPP. 

Mandatory supervision period on certain sentences 

(a) A convicted defendant sentenced to a period of confinement under the supervision of the Department of Corrections shall be subject to the following provisions, unless the defendant is released to a term of probation or released on parole under the provisions of Chapter 22 of Title 15: 

(1) If the defendant is sentenced to a period of five years or less, he or she shall be released to supervision by the Board of Pardons and Paroles no less than three months and no more than five months prior to the defendant’s release date; 

(2) If the defendant is sentenced to a period of more than five years but less than 10 years, he or she shall be released to supervision by the Board of Pardons and Paroles no less than six months and no more than nine months prior to the defendant’s release date; or 

(3) If the defendant is sentenced to a period of 10 years or more, he or she shall be released to supervision by the Board of Pardons and Paroles no less than 10 months and no more than 12 months prior to the defendant’s release date. 

(b) The provisions of this section shall not apply to a defendant convicted of any sex offense involving a child, as defined in Section 15-20A-4. 

(c) Prior to the defendant’s release to supervision pursuant to this section, notice of such release shall be provided to the victim and interested parties through the victim notification system established pursuant to Section 15-22-36.2 and under the provisions of Section 15-22-36. 

(d) Release of an offender to supervision pursuant to this section shall be release to an intensive program under the supervision of the Board of Pardons and Paroles. 

To find out information on any Alabama Department of Corrections inmate or to register for victim notifications, visit www.doc.state.al.us.  

The October 2021 law can be found in its entirety at https://legiscan.com/AL/bill/HB2/2021/X1

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