February 15, 2011

Purpose and Intent Statement for the Safe and Fair Evaluations (SAFE) Parole Act

Details of the Purpose and Intent Statement for the Safe and Fair Evaluations (SAFE) Parole Act—proposed by the NYS Parole Reform Campaign.

DELETION OF SUBDIVISION 1: This section of the statute is outdated and no longer relevant. In 1980, the legislature placed the full responsibility for setting the minimum period of imprisonment on the courts, determining that the courts were better suited than the Parole Board to perform this function. Since the change in 1980, the courts have set the minimum for all indeterminate sentences.

THE INTERVIEW SHALL TAKE PLACE WITH ALL PARTIES PRESENT IN THE SAME ROOM: In-person interviews result in a more engaged, effective and meaningful process for parole applicants and parole commissioners. By increasing the opportunity for fairness, concern and serious consideration, such hearings increase the applicants’ trust in the process and in the goal of reintegration. At the same time, by their very nature, in-person hearings create an environment in which the parole board can more fully and fairly evaluate applicants.

THE INTERVIEW SHALL BE RECORDED AUDIO/VISUALLY: Videotaping interviews ensures that the final record is accurate and comprehensive, and eliminates the mistakes and omissions commonly found in transcripts. Recording the interviews in this way allows for a more effective review of the hearing, the atmosphere in which it takes place and the demeanor of all parties—and holds everyone accountable for their conduct. The cost of videotaping hearings and providing copies, when requested, to parole applicants is more than offset by the savings realized by eliminating the cost of stenographers and, in many cases, the cost of transcripts.

NO DOCUMENTS THAT ARE AVAILABLE TO THE PAROLE BOARD SHALL BE CONSIDERED CONFIDENTIAL EXCEPT WHEN FOR THE SAFETY OF THE PAROLE APPLICANT: Providing for full disclosure to the applicant of those documents that are already available to the Parole Board for consideration results in greater transparency, fairness and trust in the parole process. With full and fair disclosure, the applicant can address errors or other information, thereby ensuring a more accurate portrayal of him/her on which to base the board’s decision.

WITH THE PAROLE APPLICANT’S CONSENT, A COPY OF HIS/HER PSYCHIATRIC EVALUATION AND “PAROLE RELEASE PLAN” SHALL BE MADE AVAILABLE TO A REQUESTING VICTIM, OR VICTIM’S REPRESENTATIVE. THE PAROLE BOARD SHALL CONSIDER SUPPORTIVE OR CRITICAL INPUT FROM THE VICTIM CONCERNING BEHAVIOR OF THE PAROLE APPLICANT POST-SENTENCING: This change provides more information than ever before to victims and their representatives, who have typically been uninformed about the parole applicant’s progress while incarcerated, and alienated from the parole process. With this kind of information, victims have a more complete picture of the parole applicant’s behavior since sentencing and his/her readiness for release, and they can provide input in the parole process in a more meaningful way.

RELEASE ON PAROLE SHALL BE GRANTED FOR GOOD CONDUCT AND EFFICIENT PERFORMANCE OF DUTIES WHILE CONFINED, AND PREPAREDNESS FOR REENTRY AND REINTEGRATION INTO SOCIETY, THEREBY PROVIDING A REASONABLE BASIS TO CONCLUDE THAT, IF SUCH PERSON IS RELEASED, HE OR SHE WILL LIVE AND REMAIN AT LIBERTY WITHOUT VIOLATING THE LAW: With this change, the parole board is given more specific, workable criteria by which to determine parole releases. It requires the board to more thoroughly evaluate whatever changes have taken place in the parole applicant since sentencing, based on his/her institutional record, behavior and other reliable indicators while confined.

THE PAROLE BOARD WILL BE REQUIRED TO STATE IN DETAIL THE SPECIFIC REQUIREMENTS FOR ACTIONS TO BE TAKEN, PROGRAMS OR ACCOMPLISHMENTS TO BE COMPLETED, OR CHANGES IN PERFORMANCE, OR CONDUCT TO BE MADE, OR CORRECTIVE ACTION OR ACTIONS TO BE TAKEN, IN ORDER TO QUALIFY FOR PAROLE RELEASE: Requiring the Parole Board to explicitly set forth detailed conditions for release is consistent with the proposed New York State Transitional Accountability Plan (TAP), which was a collaboration between the Department of Correctional Services and the Division of Parole. This change makes for good corrections, providing a fairer, more thoughtful and transparent process by which the Parole Board can make determinations regarding current and future release. It also alleviates the frustration and confusion experienced by parole applicants when they are not given clear and complete instructions regarding what they must do in order to meet the expectations of the next Parole Board. In the end, this change holds everyone accountable—the applicant, the Department of Correctional Services and the Parole Board.

THE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES SHALL PROVIDE TO THE PAROLE APPLICANT ACCESS—WITHIN 90 DAYS—TO THE PROGRAM OR PROGRAMS, ACTIVITIES AND/OR FACILITIES NEEDED IN ORDER TO PROVIDE THE OPPORTUNITY TO FULFILL THE REQUIREMENTS SET FORTH BY THE PAROLE BOARD: Having created goals and expectations for the parole applicant, good and consistent corrections practices require that the applicant be given the opportunity to meet these goals. Such opportunities must be made available quickly, in order to take advantage of the applicant’s heightened motivation and willingness to participate. Doing so is also in keeping with the proposed TAP, and it promotes collaboration between Parole and Corrections.

THE PAROLE APPLICANT SHALL BE SCHEDULED FOR A REAPPEARANCE BEFORE THE BOARD UPON COMPLETION OF THE STIPULATED REQUIREMENTS, OR AFTER 24 MONTHS, WHICHEVER COMES FIRST. IF THE REQUIREMENTS PREVIOUSLY SET FORTH BY THE PAROLE BOARD HAVE BEEN SUCCESSFULLY COMPLETED, RELEASE SHALL BE GRANTED: This change requires the initial Parole Board to be more thoughtful, thorough and specific regarding the evaluation of and expectations for the parole applicant. For example, at an applicant’s first parole hearing, the Parole Board must make a thorough, detailed assessment of the applicant’s strengths and deficits. Should the applicant be denied parole at that first hearing, the Parole Board must provide specific, detailed criteria that the applicant must fulfill in order to address the deficits. Once all criteria are fulfilled, and if the applicant’s record remains satisfactory, the applicant must be released.