Thursday, August 5, 2010

Unaccountable Parole Decision-Making in Indiana


Hal Pepinsky,,

August 5, 2010

I have recently been trying to find out grounds on which a friend of mine has repeatedly been turned down for parole in Indiana. Two forthright parole board members have told me the same story of how the board has as far as they know always made decisions. After each parole hearing, the five members simply vote to grant or deny parole. They take no notes during the hearing. They do not discuss, or as one member put it, ever “poll” one another before the vote. They never discuss cases outside of any hearing. Hence, board members, let alone prisoners, never know why any vote has been cast. Hence there is no record indicating to anyone, including prisoners themselves, why parole is granted or denied.
One board member analogized this procedure to that of a judge who enters a judgment without explanation. But in courts of record, there are at least accounts of issues that have been raised by attorneys as bases for parties to infer why judges have made their decisions, and as bases for higher level reviews. My friend in this instance received a life sentence in Indiana in the mid-seventies under the “old Code,” when the only avenue to release was parole, or if parole had never been granted, via a vote of a majority of the board to recommend clemency to the governor.
The parole decision-making procedure in Indiana blows my mind. In my four decades in criminology and in and around criminal justice, my illusions about due process have been shattered many times over, but the Indiana parole procedure goes beyond anything I have ever encountered before, let alone imagined. Back when my prisoner friend was convicted, the federal parole board was already required to account for its decisions case by case. The same then became true in my home state of Ohio. I have no idea how many other states do as is done in Indiana. I only know that Indiana’s parole procedure is the most thoroughly unaccountable, unreviewable legal decision-making procedure I have ever encountered, and that it took me personal inquiry after more than thirty years in Indiana to have a clue as to what that procedure might be. How on earth could anyone think that Indiana’s procedure is constitutionally permissible? Perhaps it’s because prisoners are so low on the legal totem pole that no one until now has thought to ask the question. Love and peace--hal

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