Friday, July 28, 2017

GateHouse: Nevada shines light on parole, it is not pretty

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
July 24, 2017
Last week, the Nevada Board of Parole Commissioners clearly demonstrated why the Nevada Legislature should send the seven commissioners packing, abolish the commission and create a system that won’t let offenders pander and parole decision-makers wither.
O.J. Simpson’s parole hearing opened the door to a process of decision-making that, for many, had been unknown. Simpson’s brash denials of responsibility and minimization of his involvement in the conspiracy to commit robbery, kidnapping and an assortment of other serious crimes code violations is an affront to the criminal justice system and especially parole decision-making.
About 6-months ago, I wrote in this column that it is time to rethink parole. Simpson’s parole hearing convinced me that change is the right course.
In February, I wrote that although there are criteria and policies to guide parole members on making release decisions, the process is different from any other decision made in the criminal justice system.
As a former parole board member, having spent a 6-year term on the nine-member Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, I was dismayed with the matter-of-fact approach of the Nevada Commission. The decision to parole Simpson was a foregone conclusion before anyone entered the hearing room.
How else could you explain the Commission’s failure to challenge Simpson? He essentially said “I didn’t know what was going down.” Simpson whined that he was duped by his co-conspirators — he never saw a gun and never robbed anybody.
Why is it important for an offender to take responsibility? If an inmate has spent years in prison and continues to minimize his involvement in the crime or boldly assert he did nothing wrong, what happens the next time that parolee is faced with a decision that includes crime as an option?
In Simpson’s case, he had no misconducts, completed programming — albeit not what the department of corrections had recommended — and was considered a low risk. So what was the reason to conduct the interview? He wasn’t challenged, he used the opportunity to tell the commission, and the public, what a good guy he is and what a great reputation he has among members of the prison community and the community at large.
Then the board made it a point that the “incident” in 1994 — the wrongful death of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman — would not be considered by the board. Wow, Simpson was found liable in a civil court in California for their deaths and the parole commission isn’t going to consider it?
According to the Commission website, in Nevada, “Parole is an act of grace by the state ... and release from confinement after serving a portion of their sentence is discretionary.” If a paroling authority is not going to ask probing questions of potential parolees and explore their background and history then why go through the motions.
As I 6 months ago, the parole process can be streamlined. Parole boards should focus their time and resources on the inmates that really matter.
One option would be to split parole consideration into three categories. First, those inmates who have complied with all requirements for parole — programming, good behavior, institutional support and are assessed a low risk. As in Simpson’s case he should have presumptively been paroled, without review by the parole board.
Then there are those unlikely to be paroled — refusing programming, behavior problems and no institutional support. Those inmates are automatically refused without seeing the board.
That leaves time for those inmates on the bubble, maybe a high risk or past behavior history. Those inmates should be interviewed by the board — probed, cajoled and challenged. Determining whether those parolees will succeed may be the difference between life or death for some unsuspecting member of society.
I am not suggesting Simpson should stay in prison, but to give him a forum and a tap on the head didn’t provide justice for anyone.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.
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