Lifer Parole Process
A parole proceeding is a hearing to determine whether an offender is suitable for release to parole supervision.
What is a life sentence with the possibility of parole? (Indeterminate Sentencing Law – ISL)
An example of a life sentence with the possibility of parole is when an offender is sentenced to serve a term of “15 years to life.”
Offenders serving life sentences with the possibility of parole are automatically eligible for a parole hearing typically 13 months prior to their Minimum Eligible Parole Date, or upon reaching the eligibility for the Youth Offender or Elderly Parole processes. Just because an Offender has been scheduled for a parole proceeding does not mean he or she will be released on parole. The Board of Parole Hearings (BPH) will determine whether offenders are suitable for parole. Offenders sentenced to life with the possibility of parole are not guaranteed parole and can be held in prison for life.
Offenders serving determinate sentences (DSL) may become eligible for a parole suitability hearing prior to their release date if they meet criteria through the Youth Offender or Elderly Parole processes.
Parole proceedings are not to decide guilt or innocence. The BPH accepts as fact the guilty verdict imposed by the courts. The purpose of a parole proceeding 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 proceeding 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.”
Offenders 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).
Any person may submit information to the BPH concerning any offender. When deciding whether to release an offender 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 proceeding will be conducted. Those comments will be included in the offender’s Central File and will be considered by future hearing panels. Communications opposing an offender’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.
What happens if the offender is granted parole?
If parole is granted, the panel will explain the decision. All decisions to grant parole are subject to review, part of a check- and balance system to ensure public safety is not compromised.
- A review by the BPH staff to determine if there are any errors of law or fact.
- The Office of the Governor has the discretion to review the decision. 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, (i.e. adding a parole condition or changing a parole date)
- Reversing the decision
- Referring the decision back to the BPH so that all of the commissioners can reconsider the panel’s decision.
Impact statements and letters regarding a case the Governor’s office may be reviewing should be addressed to the Governor’s attention, State Capitol Building, Sacramento, CA 95814.
What happens if the offender is denied parole?
If parole is denied, the commissioners must deny the offender a specific period of time (3, 5, 7, 10 or 15 years).
Sua Sponte Review:
If an offender is denied the minimum period of three years, his or her case will automatically be reviewed to determine whether their next parole hearing can be advanced to an earlier date. Under Marsy’s Law, the BPH was granted the ability to conduct an administrative review of an offender’s hearing decision. This review process will be conducted for all three year denials and will take place one year after the hearing.
Petition to Advance:
When an offender receives a denial by the BPH they can file a Petition to Advance (PTA) and ask the BPH to exercise its discretion to advance their hearing. They can request a PTA once every three years of their denial period.
If the offender’s case meets the criteria to be reviewed for a Sua Sponte Review or a Petition to Advance, the BPH will conduct a review to determine whether or not to advance the offender’s hearing date. At that time, the victim and/or the victim’s next of kin will be notified and have the right to provide the BPH their views prior to the board deciding whether or not to advance the offender’s next hearing. Per penal code section 3041.5(b)(4), the legal standard for advancing an offender’s next suitability hearing is “a change in circumstances or new information establish[ing] a reasonable likelihood that consideration of the public and victim’s safety does not require the additional period of incarceration of the prisoner”. Therefore, your input should include a statement of how the public and your own safety would be affected if the offender were to be released. You will be notified, in writing, of the BPH’s decision to approve or deny an advance of the offender’s hearing date.