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Monday, July 13, 2015

Ind. Gov't. - "How parole boards keep prisoners in the dark and behind bars"

The Washington Post on Sunday ran a long story by Beth Schwartzapfel of The Marshall Project. After a brief review, it looks like Indiana comes out well, as according to the story Indiana is one of two states (along with Illinois) where parole (in the sense used in the story) was abolished long ago. Some quotes from the story:

A months-long Marshall Project investigation reveals that, in many states, parole boards are so deeply cautious about releasing prisoners who could come back to haunt them that they release only a small fraction of those eligible — and almost none who have committed violent offenses, even those who pose little danger and whom a judge clearly intended to go free. * * * [ILB: Note this is "parole," not "clemency."] * * *

Parole boards are vested with almost unlimited discretion to make decisions on almost any basis. Hearsay, rumor and instinct are all fair game. In New Mexico, the law directs the board to take into account “the inmate’s culture, language, values, mores, judgments, communicative ability and other unique qualities.”

The boards’ sensitivity to politics stems in part from the heavy presence of politicians in the ranks of board members. At least 18 states have one or more former elected officials on the board. In 44 states, the board is wholly appointed by the governor, and the well-paid positions can become gifts for former aides and political allies.

While some state laws require basic qualifications, these statutes are often vaguely worded, with language that is easily sidestepped. Many states have no minimum requirements at all.

And unlike politicians, who are bound by open records and disclosure laws and are accountable to their constituents, parole boards often operate behind closed doors. Their decisions are largely unreviewable by courts — or anyone else. * * *

In many states, the boards’ most basic workings are shielded by law from public view. Boards are not obligated to give any but the most cursory reasons for their decisions, which include not only whether to release prisoners but also how long they must wait to be considered again or what they can do to increase their chances in the meantime.

In 24 states, boards need not disclose what material they relied upon to reach their decisions. Courts have consistently upheld this prerogative, ruling that inmates have no due process right to parole. * * *

Determining whether an offender poses a manageable risk is a major preoccupation in criminal justice circles. At many steps in the process — from sentencing to probation — offenders’ histories are plumbed to produce data-driven, research-tested assessments of the threat they pose to public safety.

In the past five years, at least 10 states have passed laws requiring parole boards to use risk assessment tools and other quantitative guidelines. Many other state boards also use them.

But the quality of the tools varies widely, and even high-quality tools are often ignored. * * *

Many state parole boards claim exemptions from state sunshine laws that would be unthinkable for other government officials.

In 19 states, some or all parole board hearings are closed to the public. In 24 states, board files and documents are sealed. In 18 states, parole files are not available to the inmates themselves.

Charts published with the story show that in Indiana:Here is the Indiana Parole Board website. As it explains:
The Board has jurisdiction over all offenders who committed their crimes before October 1977 (referred to as “old code” offenders), and exercises discretionary parole release authority over them. The Board also has jurisdiction over all offenders who committed their crimes after October 1977 (referred to as “new code” offenders) whose release on parole is mandatory. When parole is violated, the Board makes discretionary decisions regarding the reinstatement of parole of all “new code” offenders whose parole has been revoked.

In addition, the Indiana Parole Board acts as a Clemency Commission for all capital cases and makes recommendations to the Governor concerning clemency or commutation requests.

Here is an undated memo on the difference between probation and parole, authored by attorney Cara Wieneke.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on July 13, 2015 08:12 AM
Posted to Indiana Government