About CDCR: Divisions and Boards

The Board of Parole Hearings (BPH)

Parole Agents at a meeting

Lifer Parole Process

Parole Hearings

There are two general classes of inmates in our California prison system. Inmates sentenced to determinate sentences, such as a term of seven years, serve a finite period of time that has been set by the criminal court and, upon expiration of the sentence, they are released. Inmates sentenced to an indeterminate term, such as life with the possibility of parole, are released only after it is determined that he or she is not a current, unreasonable risk of danger to the public. The Board of Parole Hearings conducts life prisoner suitability hearings to determine whether these inmates are suitable for parole.

Inmates serving life sentences become eligible for parole hearings by statute one year prior to their minimum eligible parole date (MEPD). At the hearing, the panel considers all relevant and reliable information in the individual case in order to determine whether the inmate is suitable for release. If an inmate is found unsuitable for parole, statutory law requires that the next hearing be set 3, 5, 7, 10, or 15 years in the future. An inmate who is denied parole may request that his or her hearing be moved to an earlier date, based on a change of circumstances or new information that establishes a reasonable likelihood that consideration of public safety does not require the additional period of incarceration imposed by the denial length that was issued.

Suitability Criteria

Parole suitability hearings are not conducted to determine the inmate's guilt or innocence of the underlying life crime. The Board accepts as established the guilty verdict imposed by the court. Pursuant to Penal Code section 3041, the panel shall set a release date unless it determines that public safety requires a longer period of incarceration. Companion regulations, California Code of Regulations, title 15, sections 2281 and 2402, state that, regardless of the length of time the inmate has been in prison, he or she shall be found unsuitable and denied parole if the panel determines that the prisoner poses an unreasonable risk of danger to society if released from prison. The regulations also set forth examples of circumstances tending to show that an inmate is suitable or unsuitable for parole.

The California Supreme Court has issued decisions arising from parole suitability hearings. In 2002, the court found the Board's discretion in parole matters to be extremely broad and articulated the "some evidence" test as applied to findings of unsuitability. See In re Rosencrantz (2002) 29 Cal.4th 616, 655, 658. In 2005, the court held that the Board of Parole Hearings is authorized to find an inmate who poses a continuing danger to public safety, as indicated by the gravity of the inmate's offense, to be unsuitable for parole. See In re Dannenberg (2005) 34 Cal.4th 1061. In 2008, the court addressed the standard for the judicial review of life prisoner parole suitability decisions that is to be applied by the courts which review challenges to parole decisions. The court observed that every prisoner presents some measure of risk of danger to society if released and, therefore, the question of suitability turns on whether the facts and circumstances of the particular case indicate that the inmate presents a current, unreasonable risk of danger. See In re Sandra Lawrence (2008) 44 Cal.4th 1181 and In re Richard Shaputis (2008) 44 Cal.4th 1241.

Who Participates in the Hearing?

The hearings are conducted by a Commissioner, who is appointed by the Governor and subject to Senate Rules Committee confirmation, and a Deputy Commissioner, who is a civil servant employee of the state. Inmates are entitled to legal counsel at their hearings. The District Attorney from the prosecuting county may ask clarifying questions and render a statement on the question of parole suitability. The victims of the crime and/or their representatives may attend the hearing and address the panel with their comments on suitability and/or the impact of the crime.

Public Comment

Any person may submit information to the Board of Parole Hearings concerning any inmate or parolee. Written comments should be directed to the Classification and Parole Representative at the prison where the hearing will be conducted. Those comments will be included in the inmate's or parolee's Central File and will be considered by future hearing panels.

What Happens to a Parole Decision?

Once a decision is final, generally after the 120-day decision review period, the Governor has statutory authority under Penal Code sections 3041.1 and 3041.2 to review parole suitability decisions. Up to 90 days prior to a scheduled release date of an inmate, the Governor may request that the Board review its panel's decision. When such a request is made, the matter is placed on the Board's public meeting agenda and the public has the opportunity to give a 5-minute statement on whether the Board's hearing decision should be upheld. If an inmate was convicted of murder, the Governor may reverse or modify the Board's decision without referring it back to the Board for review.

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