December 09, 2007

Testimony of Professor Philip M. Genty, given at the public hearing before the New York State Commission on Sentencing Reform, November 13, 2007

The testimony of Professor Philip M. Genty, Clinical Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, given at the public hearing before the New York State Commission on Sentencing Reform, New York City, November 13, 2007.

Professor Philip M. Genty explains the anomalies in the current Parole Board guidelines in New York State and goes on to suggest ways of restoring hope and rationality to the parole system.

Extract from his testimony:

"The Parole Board guidelines currently in use date back to the late 1970's and have been essentially obsolete for more than 20 years. These guidelines were created for a purpose that no longer exists – guiding the Parole Board in the setting of sentences, specifically the minimum terms of indeterminate sentences. The guidelines measure two factors only – seriousness of the crime and prior criminal history. These are factors that should be used at the time of sentencing. The problem is that the responsibility for setting sentences was removed from the Parole Board and restored to the courts in 1980. This was done to eliminate unnecessary duplication of function between the Parole Board and the sentencing courts. Since 1980, the Parole Board’s main responsibility has been to evaluate individuals for parole release after they have served their minimum sentences. However, the Parole Board guidelines were never changed to reflect this shift in mission. To this day, the guidelines continue to measure only two factors – seriousness of the crime and criminal history – rather than the array of factors that would be relevant to a meaningful assessment of who the individual is today, and whether that individual has been rehabilitated and can be safely released from prison.

This, then, is an important example of what the Commission has described as "disorder and confusion" caused by an "ad hoc and piecemeal approach to sentencing." Our current Parole Board guidelines were designed for a purpose that ceased to exist 27 years ago, and they are ill-suited to the purpose for which they are now being used. A consequence of this is that the Parole Board often acts as if it were still responsible for sentencing decisions – it simply re-examines the underlying crime and criminal history. In doing so it fails to consider any changes that have occurred in the individual in the many years that have passed since the crime was committed. ...This is especially true for individuals convicted of felonies classified as violent."

(The full text of Professor Philip M. Genty's testimony may be found here.)