Marshall, Siegelman address opioids, violent crime as they vie for AG
(WAFF) - Ahead of Tuesday’s election, candidates are hitting the campaign trial hard to get their message to voters, including the men running for Alabama attorney general.
Voters next week will choose between Republican incumbent Steve Marshall and Democratic challenger Joe Siegelman, the son of former Gov. Don Siegelman.
Marshall is a veteran prosecutor-the long-time district attorney in Marshall County. He says his experience in the courtroom, working with law enforcement and victims, has allowed him to make strides as Alabama’s attorney general.
“I'm a prosecutor for 20 years. I spent 16 years of my professional life as the DA of Marshall County. It was a remarkable job that was very good training in the role that I have now. It obviously allowed me to be able to understand public safety issues, what law enforcement and victims need in courtrooms, not only for what I had in Marshall County but throughout Alabama. I think the one thing I've had the opportunity to do is be able to walk into the job prepared to deal with those issues,” he said.
When he walked into office in February 2017, there was no strategic plan in the state to deal with the quadrupling of opioid related deaths over an eight-year period. Alabama was the number one state per capita for opioid prescriptions.
“Although there were agencies working, there was nobody working in a systematic, coordinated way to deal with this problem,” Marshall stated.
He went to the governor with proposals to combat the issue. Now, his office has been taking the comprehensive plan and putting it into action.
“We've seen a significant improvement in the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. People refer to it as the PDMP. They give doctors and pharmacists greater information to look for those engaged in doctor shopping. It allows doctors to make better prescribing decisions related to opioids. We're starting to do a better job now in beginning to collect data,” Marshall explained.
Marshall also pushed for tougher legislation and there’s now a fentanyl trafficking bill in Alabama.
“That is a significant reason for the overdose deaths not only in Alabama but in this country. We were able to get that passed to give that tool to law enforcement and prosecutors around the state,” he said.
According to Marshall, the most recent data shows that over a five-year period, opioid prescriptions have been reduced by 23 percent.
“That's significant and that's progress. But there's still work to be done. We're continuing to work with the implementation team for that strategic plan going forward,” he added.
The key, he says, is reversing the trend on prescribing patterns and making sure there’s treatment options for those seeking help.
Marshall has also launched a violent crime initiative, working with the U.S. attorney’s office in the southern, northern and middle districts.
“One of the things we’ve done is stand up a computer forensics lab. We know that much of our evidence and investigative leads are now on digital media. We have the opportunity to have those analyzed and given to prosecutors and law enforcement to be able to work with that as tools to be able to deal with violent crime in their communities,” he added.
Marshall is up against Democratic challenger Joe Siegelman, a Birmingham attorney and the son of former Gov. Don Siegelman.
“This campaign has been about my vision for the Attorney General’s Office, making it about people, not politics, and instilling a mindset and attitude and independence and restoring people’s faith and confidence in that office,” he said.
Siegelman has spent months traveling the state meeting Alabamians and hearing what matters to them.
“It's an office where the principal responsibility is the administration of justice, applying the law fairly, equally and impartially so you need someone who is about people, not politics, and who is going to bring a mindset of independence because that's what it's going to take to do this job,” he added.
His priorities include the opioid crisis, consumer protection, and school and public safety.
“I've created opportunities to speak with members of our law enforcement community, whether it be districts attorneys, police chiefs, officers, and What they need is to solve this problem of violent crime has not been addressed,” Siegelman said.
“We need someone who is going to be tough on crime but smart as well, who is going to work with law enforcement on a local level on the front lines, as well as district attorneys to put a stop to violent crime and to address the criminal justice system generally,” he added.
Both candidates addressed the controversy with the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles.
Many have pointed to the case of Jimmy O'Neal Spencer, who was paroled from prison early and assigned to the Jimmy Hale Mission, but walked away weeks later. The shelter says they contacted Spencer’s parole officer but didn’t hear back. Spencer was in the wind for months before reportedly murdering three people in Marshall County.
Last month, Gov. Kay Ivey has issued an executive order for a temporary moratorium on early parole consideration for violent inmates from the state’s prisons.
The order states that all early paroles for violent inmates are frozen until the board can create a corrective action plan, which is due in 30 days. The order also states that the board docketed hundreds of dangerous inmates for early parole with no justification, calling the practices a threat to public safety, and said the board failed to properly evaluate inmates’ suitability for parole.
Marshall weighed in on the topic, saying: “The role of the Pardons and Paroles Board is to ensure public safety, not to be there as kind of the release valve from our prison system. The executive order now requires the board to provide a corrective plan of action in four specific areas that the governor and I have asked. I’m looking forward to seeing that plan and once we have that opportunity to review it, to see whether or not we believe they’re going to make the strides we think need to be made for them to restore public confidence in the decisions they make.”
Siegelman was also asked about it and responded: “We’re warehousing individuals in our prisons with drug addictions and mental illness and we need to do something about that. But there’s certain people who need to remain in prison. We can’t have a system where we have overcrowded prisons to the extent that we are unable to keep our families and communities safe. I look forward to being in a position to make the tough decisions that need to be made for the people of Alabama so we can keep our families and communities safe.”
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