In stark contrast to the last two governors, Jerry Brown is allowing many murderers to return to California streets, much to the dismay of victim’s advocates. But, it seems as if Brown has managed to balance public safety with rehabilitation, releasing those who pose little risk to the community and who have shown themselves reformed while incarcerated.
When the Board of Parole Hearings votes to release a murderer, that decision then goes before the Governor. If he denies the parole, in contrast to the board’s decision, a judge can reverse the governor’s decision, allowing the inmate to be released anyways.
In his year in office, Brown has approved 80% of the decisions sent from the Parole Board. Former Governor Schwarzenegger allowed about 25% and Gray Davis only allowed 2%.
Though the two previous governors were more reserved about approving the parole of murderers, judges often reversed their decisions. According to the Silicon Valley Mercury News, about 75% of Schwarzenegger’s denials were reversed, allowing the inmates to be paroled despite his objection.
In 2008, the state Supreme Court determined it was not enough for the parole of a person to be based solely on their original crime. Instead, how much of a risk they would pose if released should play a major role in the parole decision.
But victims’ rights advocates are worried the initial offense is being ignored. Christine Ward, of the Crime Victims Action Alliance, says the jump in paroled murderers is alarming. “…we’re eventually going to see some individuals convicted of committing the most heinous crimes imaginable being released from prison.”
She may be right, but does it make sense to hold them solely based on the distaste their offense left behind? Instead, their conduct and progress in prison, paired with their risk for reoffending should be the ultimate determining factors in parole.
Interestingly, murderers are far less likely to reoffend once released than those convicted of other crimes. A Stanford Law School study last year found that of 860 murderers paroled in California since 1995, only five were sent back to prison for new crimes, and none of them were for murder.
Paroled murderers represent a very small fraction of the entire prison population and the entire parole population. So when someone says something like, “It just seems like he wants to open the doors and let everyone out,” as Harriet Salarno of the Crime Victims United of California said, it seems like a gross exaggeration.
Parole is a privilege afforded to people who have served time and who the parole board, the governor, and the courts believe will be successful when released.
Similar to probation, parole is characterized by frequent visits with an officer and different rules or conditions to adhere to. If you have questions about probation, parole, or how the criminal charges you are facing may affect your future, contact our offices today.