A new study from the Stanford Criminal Justice Center reports that an offender sentenced to life with a chance of parole will serve about a 20 year term. Also, and perhaps even more notably, the vast majority of people who are sentenced to life in prison and subsequently released on parole, will not reoffend.
More lifers are being paroled now than four years ago, according to the study, with 18% of hearings resulting in release. This is at least in part due to the 2008 State Supreme Court ruling that required the parole board to look at public safety risk when considering parole, rather than solely the facts of the crime.
Most inmates are required to serve the sentence doled out by the court. But a few offenses make them eligible for parole. A parole hearing is held by board who decides which inmates do not create a public safety risk and can be released from prison to undergo community supervision instead. Eligible crimes include murder, attempted murder, aggravated rape, and others.
Under past governors, the parole board’s decisions were overruled in massive numbers. But parole rates are expected to climb under Governor Brown, who has overruled less than 20% of parole dates. Former Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed 70% and Gov. Gray Davis vetoed 98% of parole dates.
Public safety is often the cry of people who are opposed to releasing inmates on parole. But this recent study suggests their fear is irrational and misdirected.
Of 860 convicted murderers released on parole since 1995, only five had been sentenced for new felonies. This is a remarkably low rate of recidivism.
Why are convicted murderers so unlikely to reoffend? It could be that sitting in prison with a potential life sentence opened their eyes to the opportunities that awaited them when they were granted parole. Or, it could be that man is so rarely pushed to do something like take another life that the chances such a serious event will happen twice in one lifetime are slim to nil.
Regardless of the reason, the study shows that parole serves a worthwhile purpose, saving taxpayers money and redeeming the formerly incarcerated. But parole isn’t always an option.
Probation, another form of community supervision, often has positive results as well. Because it allows people to remain in the community, maintaining employment while serving their “debt to society”, they are far more likely to remain productive members.
Like parole, however, probation isn’t always an option. If you are facing criminal charges and curious about your options, contact our offices today.