This year was a busy legislative session for correctional issues. In addition to two well-publicized changes—the decision to close seven state prisons, and the merger of the Department of Correctional Services and Division of Parole to form a new agency, the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision1—the Legislature updated the laws governing discretionary parole release in several important ways. This article will describe and analyze those changes.
The most significant reform relates to the framework for parole decision-making. The existing decision-making guidelines have remained essentially unchanged since 1978. They focus on two factors only—the seriousness of the individual’s crime and the individual’s criminal history. They do not include consideration of the individual’s rehabilitation and potential for successful re-entry. As a result, particularly for individuals serving long sentences for violent felonies, the existing guidelines have led the Parole Board to deny release to persons solely on the basis of a crime committed many years—and sometimes decades—earlier, regardless of demonstrated rehabilitation. The result for incarcerated individuals and their families has been anxiety and uncertainty about the possibility of re-entry and reunification.
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