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Victim & Survivor
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Lifer Parole Process

Parole Hearings

Only inmates sentenced to life in prison(Indeterminate Sentenced), with the possibility of parole, are subject to suitability hearings by the BPH. Some life inmates are sentenced without the possibility of parole. All prison inmates in California who are not serving life sentences (known as Determinate Sentences) are released on parole after serving the sentence imposed by the court and are supervised by an assigned Parole Agent.

Inmates serving life sentences become eligible for parole hearings automatically, one year prior to their minimum eligible parole date (MEPD). Being scheduled for a parole hearing is no indication of the inmate’s suitability for release from prison. Whether inmates are found suitable for parole is a judgment of the BPH hearing panel. These inmates are sentenced to the possibility of parole, not the assurance of it, recognizing that their maximum potential sentence is life.

It is not uncommon for inmates to receive many parole hearings before they are found suitable for release. By law, murderers can be denied parole for a specific number of years (3, 5, 7, 10, and 15 years).

Suitability criteria

Parole hearings are not to decide guilt or innocence. The BPH accepts as fact the guilty verdict imposed by the courts. The purpose of a parole hearing is to determine if or when an inmate can be returned to society. Under normal circumstances, the panel or the Board shall set a release date unless it determines that the gravity of the crime (offense), or the timing and gravity of current or past convictions, requires a more lengthy period of incarceration to ensure public safety.

In general, some of the factors considered by the panel and which are discussed in the hearing include:

  • counseling reports and psychological evaluations
  • behavior in prison (ie, disciplinary notices or laudatory accomplishments)
  • vocational and educational accomplishments in prison
  • involvement in self-help therapy programs that can range from anti-addiction programs for drugs and alcohol to anger management
  • parole plans, including where an inmate would live and support themselves if they were released

The California Supreme Court in January, 2005 ruled that in denying parole suitability that “the overriding statutory concern for public safety in the individual case trumps any expectancy the indeterminate life inmate may have in a term of comparative equality with those served by other similar offenders. Section 3041 does not require the Board to schedule such an inmate’s release when it reasonably believes that the gravity of the commitment offense indicates a continuing danger to the public, simply to ensure the length of the inmate’s confinement will not exceed that of others who committed similar crimes. The Dannenberg court also noted that when the Board of Prison Term bases a finding that an inmate, who is sentenced to an indeterminate life term, is unsuitable for parole on the circumstances of the commitment offense, it must cite some evidence of aggravating facts beyond the minimum elements of the crime.”

Inmates are entitled to legal counsel, which may be a private attorney or one appointed by the BPH.  The District Attorney from the prosecuting county may make a presentation opposing or supporting parole.  Crime victims or their families are entitled to present a Victims Impact Statement the result of Proposition 8, the Crime Victims Bill of Rights, 1982).

Board of Parole Hearings Handbook image for PDF

Victims Impact Statement Writing Guide image for PDF

Public Comment

Any person may submit information to the BPH concerning any inmate or parolee. When deciding whether to release an inmate on parole, the BPH considers all information received from the public. 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. Communications opposing an inmate's release on parole may be placed in the confidential section of the Central File. The names and addresses of those writing are considered confidential.

Prison Address and Phone List

If denied parole

The inmate’s next hearing is scheduled to reflect the decision, ie three years later if the denial is for three years.

If granted parole

The decision is subject to review, part of a checks and balances system to ensure public safety is not compromised. They include:

  • a review by the BPH staff in Sacramento (within 120 days) to determine if there are any errors of law or fact
  • the Office of the Governor has the discretion to review the decision (within 30 days). The options available to the Governor include:
    • allowing the decision to stand by taking no action or choosing not to review it within the 30 days
    • actively approving the decision to parole
    • modifying the decision, (ie adding a parole condition or changing a parole date)
    • referring the decision back to the BPH so that all of the Commissioners can reconsider the panel's decision
    • reversing the decision to grant parole in murder cases only, the result of Proposition 89, adopted in 1988