If I understand it correctly, the concept of parole is that convicts deemed sufficiently rehabilitated are allowed to spend the remainder of their sentences out of prison under supervision. One would suppose then that it is up to the parole boards to judge just who is a good candidate to be released from prison. So just what percentage of people on parole are arrested for felony crimes again? Has anyone ever sued the parole boards for bad judgement, or singled out a particular board with a spectacularly poor batting average?
There is a lot of heat and little light when it comes to how inmates are released on parole, at least here in the state of California.
I know something about this, since I work in the California Department of Corrections.
For one class of inmates, namely those with so-called “indeterminate” sentences, parole is very rarely granted. This is to be distinguished from “early release” for a determinate sentence. For those of you who are clueless about the two types of sentences, “indeterminate” refers to sentences of the for “15 to life,” “25 to life,” etc. Determinate sentences are fixed numbers without any spread, such as “6 years.” Sentences may be modified by the addition of the phrase “without the opportunity of parole,” such as “life without parole.” Even rediculously long sentences, unless so modified, MAY be eligible for parole, e.g. “246 years,” or even the oxymoronic “246 years to life.”
It is well known among California inmates that a “15 to life” sentence or even a “7 to life” sentence means “forget about it, you’re never getting out.” Because of the “three strikes” law, there are quite a few inmates (hundreds in fact) who have indeterminate life sentences, sometimes for things like shoplifting or drug possession.
Few of the jurors who try criminals are told that the indeterminate sentences imposed on the criminal are de facto life sentences. They assume that if the inmate behaves himself he will be out after 5, 10, or 15 years. Not so!
Actually, the concept of parole is more of a reward than anything else - a managment tool if you will. The idea is to give incentive to the incarcerated person to obey the rules, and therefore reduce the amount of time inside. In addition, being that “parole” is a conditional release from prison, the incentive aspect is to work on the outside, too, that as long as you’re making progress to rehabilitation, your parole won’t be violated and you’d remain out.
Yes, traditionally, parole boards make the decisions (often frankly, it’s an individual parole member, they generally meet the person or review the case individually then report back to the body - or at least that’s how MI did it, YMMV). They base these decisions on reports from the institution, examination of the incident offense, victims impact statements (if available), interview with the inmate, etc.
There’s tons of stats about recidivism (ie new charge while on parole), Feel free to search for exactly what you’re looking for Here
As far as individual parole board members being sued, I believe in general that their actions would be protected under general ‘not ok to sue state officials for doing their jobs’ kind of thing. This of course, doesn’t mean that there aren’t ramifications. In Michigan, for example, the entire Parole Board was kicked out and new members installed after a parolee was arrested and convicted of the rape/murder of 2 (or 3 I can’t remember) young girls (around 13/15 years of age). see This link
Their job is not an enviable one. Predicting human behavior is an inexact science to say the least. They have to balance the overall prison population numbers with public safety concerns, knowing that a mis step on the one side may have tragic consequences, while mis steps on the other side may bankrupt our system.
This isn’t all that much help, but as I recall more than once in some Southern (?) states, parole board members were nailed for accepting bribes to go easy on specific prisoners.
In California, there was once the case of a Doctor (Hungarian immigrant?) who killed his mistress or wife over a period of time by pouring acid on her face. He was inexplicably paroled after a very short period of time. The CA parole board took a lot of heat for this. I am probably mistaken, but I seem to recall that the head of the board was named Califano and may have been forced out on account of this case. This might have been in the late 50’s or early 60’s. Probably another result of the case was more public access to parole board meetings and decisions.
Sorry not to be more specific, but no doubt some of the other SDers will have their memories jostled by some of this.
My brother, who is a Superior Court Judge in CA says parole is an incentive to be good… nothing more. Parole boards routinely let loose people who commit crimes that land them back in prison. Nobody can predict when this will happen and anybody who claims they can is lying… you can’t do much about it except kick someone off the parole board but my understanding is that doesn’t happen very often.