In 2019 the Board began implementing a new program for recruiting, training, and compensating attorneys who represent indigent inmates through the parole hearing process. The program was loosely modeled after the California Appellate Project, which provides counsel for indigent persons during the criminal appeal process. The intent of the Board’s new program is to improve the quality of attorney representation and to allow inmate counsel to focus more time on preparing an inmate for a parole hearing.

Under the new program, the Board actively recruits attorneys, reviews qualifications, and interviews each candidate. Each attorney is required to observe parole hearings and participate in several hours of legal and advocacy training conducted by Parole Justice Works, a nonprofit entity with whom the Board has contracted to provide a variety of services. Parole Justice Works is an entity comprised of experience parole attorneys, educators, advocates, formerly incarcerated persons, and victims/survivors.

The Board’s prior program educated Board-appointed attorneys on the process and legal framework governing parole hearings. But the Board, as the government agency overseeing parole, refrained from offering advocacy-based guidance to counsel who represented inmates appearing before it.

By contracting with a third-party nonprofit organization, the new approach enlists a separate group of people who are experienced inmate counsel to offer more advocacy-based training to inmate counsel. In contrast to the prior program, this advocacy-based training allows Board-appointed attorneys to learn best practices on how to effectively prepare and represent their clients for their parole hearings.

The new training is multi-faceted, and when fully implemented, it will consist of mandated training annually both in person and online. Further, experienced inmate counsel will mentor and critique Board-appointed attorneys by observing them at parole hearings while representing their inmate-clients and reviewing parole hearing transcripts.

In addition, the Legislature approved an increased pay structure for Board-appointed counsel in Fiscal Year 2019-20. The fee for representing an inmate for a scheduled parole hearing was increased from $400 to $750 per appointment.47 Counsel are appointed to represent 10 to 13 clients scheduled for their parole hearings at one location during the same week. Counsel are appointed four to five months prior to the week of scheduled hearings and are required to review each client’s central file and consult with their client for at least one hour within 30 days of being appointed.

In addition to producing training videos for inmate counsel, Parole Justice Works will also film informational videos about the parole hearing process for the inmate population and for victims and survivors who participate in the hearing process. The informational videos will be produced in conjunction with the Board, CDCR’s Office of Victim and Survivor Rights and Services, and a variety of stakeholders. It is anticipated that the video for the inmate population will be played on the Department’s inmate television system and that the video for victims and survivors will be available on the Department’s website.