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Parole board to set minimums for life-term inmates

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From page A1 | December 18, 2013 | 3 Comments

SACRAMENTO — California has agreed to change its policy for considering when murderers and others serving life sentences should be eligible for parole, though corrections experts differed Tuesday on whether the change could lead to shorter prison terms for thousands of inmates.

The state agreed to the shift under a legal settlement approved Monday by state Court of Appeal Justice J. Anthony Kline in San Francisco. The deal calls for the state Board of Parole Hearings to more quickly set the minimum time that should be served before an inmate is released.

The minimum time is not binding on parole decisions but in effect sets a guideline for how much time a person who committed a particular crime ought to typically serve. Previously the parole board generally waited to set minimum terms until after the board determined an inmate was suitable for parole. Now the board is agreeing to set the minimum term at the inmate’s first parole hearing.

Inmates still would have to establish that they no longer are a public danger before a parole date is set, board spokesman Luis Patino said.

The change will affect about 35,000 inmates serving life terms with the possibility of parole. They include not only murderers but those convicted of serious crimes like kidnapping, and career criminals convicted of a third strike. Together, they make up about a quarter of California’s prison population.

The Los Angeles Times on Tuesday cited a Stanford study released in 2011 found that murderers who were eligible for parole after serving 16 years served an average of 27 years behind bars.

The change could lead to earlier paroles that eventually would help the state comply with federal judges’ orders to reduce prison crowding, attorney Jon Streeter said Tuesday.

Streeter was appointed to represent Roy Butler, a 46-year-old inmate at Salinas Valley State Prison who was sentenced to 15 years to life for a 1987 murder. After he was repeatedly denied parole for a decade, Butler challenged the board’s current practices on the grounds that they lead to unconstitutional excessive punishment.

“We’re talking a change that could have a beneficial effect for thousands of inmates who up to now have had no idea when, if ever, they might have a chance for parole,” Streeter said. However, he said it is unclear how many might actually be released earlier than they would have been without the agreement.

Christine Ward, executive director of the Sacramento-based Crime Victims Action Alliance, said the policy change won’t have much practical effect unless the minimum terms create pressure on parole commissioners to speed up releases.

“Whether or not their earliest release date was 13 years after their sentence or 20 zillion years, it doesn’t matter if the board still deems them to be a risk to public safety,” she said. “If that starts playing into their decision, then we have a huge problem with the board.”

Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the conservative Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, also said it is too soon to say what, if any, effect the change might have.

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

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Discussion | 3 comments

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  • PatriotDecember 18, 2013 - 4:07 am

    Let's now let our most violent criminals into the community. Did you ask how their victims feel about this? Right, the victims are no longer here...All the greater reason that law abiding citizens need to armed themselves up and be prepared to be a victim.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • PatriotDecember 18, 2013 - 4:11 am

    Huge decision to be made by parole boards. What about victim rights? So if I come before them and am a good inmate and tell you I am now a good person you will let me out? Criminals are the masters in manipulation and presenting false fronts to get their way. Arm yourselves up citizens..

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • boomDecember 18, 2013 - 11:55 am

    Patriot, if you think anyone is getting out early behind this, then you have been misled. They won't parole you any earlier, you will still do an average of 27 years on 15 to life. I've sat in front of parole 'boards'(if you've been there, it's actually called going to committee)You sit in front of the Warden(most times associate warden) an officer ranking Lieutenant or higher(sometimes the Captain) your Correctional Counselor and someone to transcribe the meeting. They make you out to be the worst person ever, they take every word you say the exact wrong way and then they tell you DENIED. That's right, 4 people you have never seen in your life, read a report on you and decided(actually its decided before you go in the room, but I guess they think inmates like suspense about their release dates)that you don't get to go home to your loved ones. You can sit here and argue the whole killers, rapists, robbers argument, the truth is, they just DON'T parole those people. Oh also Patriot, please check the recidivism rate for paroled killers who have served over 20 years-it's almost non existent. If you have ever been to prison, you know the last place you wanna go is back.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
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