Board speeding up parole process
Parole Board spokesman David Smith confirmed Wednesday that the names of many inmates eligible for a parole hearing aren’t even on the list of those scheduled next month.
Families of a number of inmates have been calling not only the board offices but the governor’s office and news media to complain their loved ones have been eligible for a hearing for several months but haven’t been on the hearing schedule.
Smith said that’s because the board, at least through the end of May, has removed those serving time for violent or sex-related crimes and those with long or habitual criminal sentences from the list.
He said the reason is that those inmates’ hearings must be heard before three parole commissioners, whereas those with nonviolent and comparatively minor criminal convictions can be heard by one commissioner and a hearing officer.
Smith said the parole board can set up a total of six panels to hear nonviolent inmate cases simultaneously, processing many more of those inmates quickly. Those nonviolent offenders also have more likelihood of winning parole.
Sitting in panels of three to hear the more serious cases, he said, they can only operate two panels a day.
He said the more serious offenders will begin showing up on the hearings list again in June when, hopefully, commissioners have resolved many of the April and May cases and reduced the backlog created by several laws passed by the 2007 Legislature.
Lawmakers and Gov. Jim Gibbons approved major changes increasing the good time credits inmates can earn, including applying some of those changes retroactively.
They did so to reduce prison overcrowding that could result in legal action against the state.
But the legislation created a “bubble” of more than 1,000 inmates suddenly eligible for parole hearings.
At the same time, lawmakers approved new rights for inmates having parole hearings, including the right to have representation, the right to be present at any hearing involving them and putting those hearings under the open meeting law.
Smith and Parole Board Chairman Dorla Salling said at the time those changes would also increase the amount of time needed for each hearing.
But inmate advocates have complained the whole process seems to be moving far too slow.
Smith said Wednesday one key to speeding up the hearings is the hiring of additional hearing officers. He said those officers will be trained in April and start hearing cases with parole commissioners in May. To make that happen, he said the board is asking the Legislative Interim Finance Committee to transfer $24,000 so they can pay for that training and hearing officer salaries during May and June.
There are 953 inmates on the April eligibility list and Smith said he expects about 800 on the May list.
“I don’t think we’ll be able to get through all of them in April so you’ll see them on the May list,” he said. “But there are a large number of violent and sex offenders who’ve been taken off the list. They’ll be back on in June and July and I expect the June list will be well over a thousand.”
– Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.