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State Parole Bill Could Have Wide Consequences

Publication Date: 
January 31, 2011
The Boston Globe
Jonathan Saltzman

Director of the Criminal Justice Center Debbie Mukamal spoke with the Boston Globe's Jonathan Saltzman about different policies among states regarding the ability to reverse parole board decisions:

Legislation in the state Senate to overhaul the parole system would make it harder, if not impossible, for certain offenders to win early release and would sharply limit the discretion of the state Parole Board, according to several criminal justice specialists.

But the measure proposed last Monday by a bipartisan group of senators would not go as far as some states have in recent years, often following heinous crimes by parolees, the specialists said. In Louisiana, for example, applicants are denied parole unless they win the unanimous approval of the board. California is one of five states that empower the governor to reverse parole board decisions.


Some states, including New York, prohibit certain violent offenders from being released early on supervised parole, including some first-time violent offenders, according to Debbie Mukamal, executive director of the Criminal Justice Center at Stanford Law School.

California, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, and Oklahoma authorize the governor to review and reverse parole board decisions, Mukamal said. Critics of that provision in California, which was approved by voters in 1988 and applies only to cases involving convicted murderers, say it has politicized the length of prison terms and increased incarceration costs, as more decisions to grant parole are reversed.

Nineteen states have virtually abolished the system of granting discretionary parole by a board, said Mukamal. Instead, inmates are typically sentenced to a specific number of years in prison but are released early under supervision after serving a percentage of that time, a model similar to the set-up for releasing inmates in the federal prison system.