May 03, 2012

Effect of Risk Assessment Rule on Parole Decisions Is Unclear

Extract from a report by John Caher, reviewing the impact of recent changes in the parole statute:

ALBANY - A new law requiring the state parole board to consider inmates' rehabilitation and use a "risk assessment" procedure to gauge whether parole-eligible inmates have reformed appears to be having little effect as release rates are largely unchanged and the board is routinely basing its denials on boilerplate statutory language emphasizing the offense, records suggest.

In October, the panel was legislatively required to "incorporate risk and needs principles to measure the rehabilitation of persons appearing before the board, the likelihood of success of such persons upon release."

The board did so, but advocates say the new process appears to have no impact.

"My experience has been it doesn't matter because most of the guys are scoring the lowest risk assessment level and they are still hitting them and saying they are a threat to society," said Cheryl Kates, an attorney near Rochester whose practice consists of advocating for inmates seeking parole. "It doesn't make any sense. They've added an evidence-based procedure but still cite the statute the same way they did previously. It is just a façade. It is status quo."

Similarly, Edward Hammock, a former parole board chairman who now practices criminal law, much of it post-conviction, said he has not seen any change.

"It is my impression that nothing is really happening," Hammock said. "Why do a risk assessment if you are not going to deal with it when considering someone for release?"

Part of the problem is that there is uncertainty about why the statute was changed and what the revision was supposed to achieve. It is not clear if the revision represents a sea change in the operations of the parole board, a tweak of one of the existing factors it takes into consideration, or something in between ... ...

For complete report, see:
Effect of Risk Assessment Rule on Parole Decisions Is Unclear, by John Caher (New York Law Journal, April 30 2012)

See also:
Judge Finds Parole Risk Assessment Not Retroactive, by John Caher (New York Law Journal, May 21 2012)
Acting Supreme Court Justice Mark Fandrich wrote: "While the changes may modernize the parole laws, there is no indication that they were intended to correct any past oversight or clarify the law in any way."
Inmate Loses Parole Bid Despite his 'Incredible Prison Record', by John Caher (New York Law Journal, April 24 2012)
Matter of Thwaites v New York State Bd. of Parole 2011 NY Slip Op 21453
Matter of Hamilton v New York State Div. of Parole 2012 NY Slip Op 22112