TRAINING AND TRANSPARENCY
As mentioned above, some of the increase in parole grants can be attributed to the Board’s training program, as well as its increased transparency, which has improved the general understanding of the Board’s decision-making processes.
Prior to 2011, new commissioners received 40 hours of training, followed by an additional 40 hours of training annually, as required by Penal Code section 5075.6, subdivision (b). Since 2011, new commissioners receive six weeks of initial training followed by two weeks of annual training, in addition to training provided at the Board’s monthly executive board meetings. New commissioners also attend a two-week judicial training course on Fair Administrative Hearings at the National Judicial College after which they are certified administrative law judges. In addition, for the past few years, commissioners have attended the Association of Paroling Authorities International’s Annual Training Conference. Please see Appendix C for an example of annual training provided to commissioners.
Policies at the Board and CDCR have also increased the Board’s transparency. For example, the majority of the Board’s training sessions are routinely conducted in public session, hearing transcripts can be requested by the public through the Board’s website, and the public is routinely approved to observe a parole hearing for educational and informational purposes.
In addition, the Board’s hearing schedule and hearing outcomes are posted on the Board’s website, as is information concerning the parole hearing process. The Board also collaborated with CDCR to post parole eligibility dates, hearing dates, and parole hearing outcomes for each inmate on CDCR’s “Inmate Locator” web-based search engine. In addition, since 2013 the Board has produced an annual report entitled “Report of Significant Events,” providing an overview of statistics, training, litigation, and policy initiatives. The reports are available on the Board’s website. In 2017, the Board also worked with CDCR to create a dedicated unit of experienced correctional counselors to review and provide a comprehensive summary of confidential information contained in an inmate’s central file for purposes of disclosing that information to the inmate in advance of their parole hearing.
The Board also implemented use of a structured decision-making framework (SDMF) in 2019, which provides the Board with a structured and evidence-based approach to guide parole decisions. The SDMF was a collaborative effort with the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) and Dr. Ralph Serin, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Psychology, and Director of the Criminal Justice Decision Making Laboratory at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. With their assistance, the model SDMF was successfully adapted to reflect California’s unique parole hearing process for persons serving longer sentences.
The SDMF is a structured professional judgement model; it is a systematic compilation of key factors reflecting best practice in risk assessment and parole release decision-making. It combines both research-supported factors and relevant legal considerations, providing an analytical framework for hearing panel members to follow that is consistent with the law governing parole decisions in California. The SDMF is intended to produce parole decisions that are structured, transparent, and focused on an offender’s current risk. Additionally, it is intended to increase consistency among hearing panels and to result in more efficient parole hearings and decisions.
The SDMF was initially developed for the National Parole Board of Canada over a period of several years and has since been implemented in seven states in the United States. In 2018, the NIC chose California as one of three states to receive technical assistance in evaluating the prospects of successfully implementing the SDMF. The NIC sent teams of experts to California multiple times to evaluate its existing parole processes, including governing law, information technology systems, access to offender information, risk assessment tools, and available support systems for implementing the SDMF. In addition, members of the Board’s executive team traveled to Connecticut to observe parole hearings and to gather information about implementing the SDMF.
Each paroling authority that implements the SDMF modifies the tool as necessary to account for variations in governing law and policy. The Board worked with Dr. Serin, the NIC, and the Board’s litigation counsel to modify the SDMF to account for inmates who have served long sentences and to reflect relevant legal considerations in California, such as those applicable to youth offender hearings and elderly parole hearings.
In April 2019, experts from NIC, Dr. Serin, the Board’s litigation counsel, the Board’s Senior Forensic Psychologists, commissioners, deputy commissioners, and attorneys met for three days of SDMF training and practical application of the framework to California cases. The SDMF was subsequently implemented in California’s parole hearing process over a period of several months.
Since the Board implemented the SDMF, the average length of a parole hearing has decreased by more than 30 minutes and the overall grant rate for hearings held has increased slightly from 34% in 2019 to 36% thus far in 2020. Please see Appendix D for a copy of the Board’s SDMF.
The Board’s increased focus on training and the law governing parole hearings has resulted in a significant decrease in the number of court-ordered hearings. Historically, the judicial remedy for a successful challenge to a parole denial is a court order requiring the Board to vacate its decision and conduct a new hearing. As shown below in Figure 8, the number of “court-ordered hearings” has decreased significantly in the last 10 years.