January 30, 2014 is seared into Debra Balams' memory. It's the day her daughter was viciously attacked.
"She was stabbed in her heart, her abdomen, and her back," Debra Balams recalls to FOX10 News Anchor Lenise Ligon.
Detectives say Kayla French forced her way into LaTosha Balams home and stabbed her four times. Family members say LaTosha’s three year old daughter was there when it happened.
"From what I understand it was about a man...a guy that LaTosha was dating," Balams explained.
French was charged with attempted murder. She made a plea deal for assault, and was sentenced to 13 years. She had only served two and a half years of that time when she was awarded early parole.
The Balams launched a petition — and got another hearing. After their testimony, the board reversed its decision. French was ordered to stay behind bars until 2020. She’ll now likely serve less than half of her sentence and potentially be released seven years early.
The statewide group, Victims of Crime and Leniency's sole mission is keeping violent offenders like French in prison. Janette Grantham, director of the group, is deeply concerned with what she says is a broken system.
“Because they have, they are not following their own rules and regulations. They are paroling individuals that have life sentences who have served just a bare minimum of time, some of the worst of the worst in the state,” Janette Grantham, director of VOCAL, said.
Generally, inmates aren’t eligible for parole unless they've served one third of their sentence, or 10 years whichever comes first.
But Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich says the inmates are coming up for parole early saying, "So now they are just running right back out and that’s what we call the revolving door.”
In September more than 200 Alabama inmates were granted parole, nearly 80 in October. Rich says the problem lies with state policies.
"We don't have truth in sentencing in the state of Alabama. What happens in Alabama is for every day that a prisoner serves in prison they get sometimes as many as four free-days. So that's why they're coming up for parole."
FOX10 News received the statistical reports from the Alabama Department of Corrections and noticed a sharp increase of paroles per year from 2016 to 2017.
In 2017 over 4100 inmates were paroled. It’s trending towards 4000 paroles for 2018. But we cannot be sure because they stopped publishing the online data in July.
Following concerns that the state parole board had freed violent offenders.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey placed a 75-day moratorium on early paroles and replaced the parole board chairman. Ivey announced the news on October 15 with Attorney General Steve Marshall after the two met with parole board members.
That following day FOX10 News went to Montgomery. Nearly 100 cases were on the docket — all had been canceled.
Victims arriving for the hearings were unexpectedly met with locked doors and a sign confirming the cancellation. Some had traveled from as far away as Georgia.
“We arrived here and had not been notified that the parole hearings for the whole week had been canceled,” Joyce Adams expressed, who traveled to Montgomery from Columbus, Georgia.
Assistant Executive Director Darrell Morgan stated the board wanted to pull all the files to determine whether they were compliant with the governor's mandate.
“We definitely apologize for the inconvenience that it's caused, but there wasn't a lot of time time to adequately notify everybody.”
FOX10 News was allowed inside the hearing room as all three board members were going over the cases. None of them would talk to us one-on-one for an interview. But they did point out that they would be going through every file to make sure it complies with the Governor's order.
The governor’s office released the following response to the board's decision to cancel all hearings for the rest of the week:
"My order was clear that the Board was to implement a moratorium only on early parole hearings, not all parole hearings. My office was notified late yesterday of their decision, yet their reasoning is not sound. There are certainly issues that need to be addressed and executive leadership is one of those areas. I eagerly await the Board submitting their corrective action plan by mid-November."
The board is tasked with making improvements in four areas: ensuring excellence in leadership, cultivating a culture of respect towards victims, ensuring adequate preparation for parole hearings, and maintaining supervision of paroles.
But some say that’s not going to be enough to stop what they say is a revolving door.
“Absolutely there’s a push to get them out. It’s all about money and we are not spending our money wisely with the department of corrections — our money would be spent wisely in building additional prisons,” Mobile County Attorney, Ashley Rich said.
As for LaTosha’s mother — her fight continues. She is writing letters to everyone she can, including President Trump.
After months in the hospital, 13 surgeries, two open heart, and countless hours of rehabilitation her daughter survived — but scars from the heinous attack remain— both physical and mental.
“Why hold a person there for a non-violent crime— all those years... 20 years, 30 years, but you wanna take a person there for a severe crime that’s almost taken a life...and allow those people out in a short period of time? That’s baffling to me. It makes no since.”
French is eligible to walk the streets in March 2020. Balams is hopeful for change — for her daughter’s sake she says — and the public’s too.