BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Horrifying murders committed by violent offenders given early release from prison have put a dark spotlight on parole board failures across the country.
Reagan Tokes, 21, was a college senior at Ohio State when she was kidnapped, raped, and murdered by a convicted sex offender. "There's not a day goes by I don't wake up and think, 'did this really happen?'" says her sister Makenzie, a student at the University of Alabama.
She says what her family learned after her sister's murder should alarm all of us. "I don't think people realize how at risk we truly are," remarks Makenzie. Her sister's nude body was found in a snowy field. "The dehumanizing factors, what she went through, was sickening to find out," says Makenzie.
The family learned suspect Brian Golsby, a convicted sex offender, was paroled early from prison just months before. Despite multiple infractions in prison, Golsby was released wearing an ankle GPS device that nobody was monitoring it in real time. Golsby was on a spree of escalating crimes when he murdered Reagan Tokes.
The family fought for change in Ohio's parole system and succeeded. In Alabama, a similarly horrific crime exposed major issues in our parole system. Last September, three people were murdered, including a 7-year-old boy in Guntersville.
Suspect Jimmy Spencer was paroled early, despite a long criminal record and multiple infractions in prison. He was living homeless in Guntersville unsupervised.
As the details were released on the case, Governor Kay Ivey put a moratorium on early paroles calling for corrective actions and a new parole board leader.
"Moving forward you'll see a better reactive agency, instead of a defensive one," explains Assistant Executive Director Darrell Morgan. He says they will work to make sure everyone, victims and law enforcement, is involved in what they're doing.
The state monitors more than 52,000 former inmates on parole and probation. The recommended national caseload: 75 offenders to one officer. In Alabama that number is 198 offenders to one officer.
Also concerning, unlike most other states Alabama doesn't have GPS monitoring devices for parolees most likely to commit new crimes. Morgan says the board is looking at that in the future.
Governor Ivey and Attorney General Steve Marshall have requested monthly updates from the Parole Board on changes it plans to make and a timeline. They have said they may propose legislation to improve the system. Four areas they want addressed: board leadership, creating a culture of respect for victims and law enforcement, and supervision of parolees.
In general violent offenders are eligible for a parole hearing when 85 percent of their sentences are served. Paroles in Alabama are trending up overall by double digits.