On July 8, 2009, the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles issued a formal pardon for former prisoner Mack Kirby. The Board’s decision, which was unanimous, restores Mr. Kirby’s voting rights and ends his parole supervision.
In 2004, Mr. Kirby, who had been sentenced to life in prison without parole in 1990 for selling marijuana, was the first prisoner released after the Alabama Supreme Court unanimously decided to allow judges to reconsider sentences of life without parole for nonviolent offenders. EJI lawyers represented Mr. Kirby and others in that case.
At that time, Mr. Kirby was one of thousands of prisoners who had been sentenced to life without parole because of Alabama’s Habitual Felony Offender Act (HFOA). Passed in 1979, the statute, one of the most severe in the nation, did not recognize distinctions between violent and nonviolent offenders. In many cases, it imposed mandatory life sentences without parole on anyone who had three prior felony convictions.
In 2000, the Alabama Legislature amended the Act, giving trial court judges more discretion in sentencing repeat felony offenders. Recognizing the potential to move nonviolent offenders out of overcrowded state prisons, as well as the extreme strain the HFOA had placed on the Alabama Department of Corrections, the Legislature made this amendment retroactive in 2001.
Enforcement of this new law, however, was delayed for more than three years while Alabama’s Attorney General challenged its constitutionality. In 2003, EJI won a ruling on this issue from the Alabama Supreme Court, which held that the statute is constitutional and that “[n]o basis exists for further delay” in resentencing eligible inmates.
“The Legislature was trying to get people out of prison who have no demonstrated history of violent behavior and who pose no serious risk of violent behavior on release,” said Bryan Stevenson, Executive Director of EJI. “I think there are hundreds and maybe thousands who, if their cases were examined, might meet that criteria.”
Stevenson said Mr. Kirby’s case is not only a personal success story, but a “success story for Alabama, because we would have been spending $15,000 to $20,000 to keep him incarcerated.”
Mr. Kirby now resides in Pisgah, Alabama and runs a small trucking business and trailer park. “I try to be a good neighbor. I keep a clean place and I keep the yard mowed,” he told the News Courier. “I live right across from the street from the community center where they vote, and I’ve always wanted to vote.”