The following is from Phil Drake of the Montana Watchdog:
By Phil Drake | Montana Watchdog http://watchdog.org/55623/parole-pardon-review/
It might be time for a serious review of Montana’s parole and pardon process.
“There’s too many complaints,” he told Montana Watchdog during a break in the Law and Justice Interim Committee meeting. “Where there’s smoke there’s fire someplace.”
He said if the board were eliminated, inmates would serve their full sentence and be released. He said it would be one more factor a judge would take into consideration when passing sentence.
The board approved the resolution, LC0325, with an 8-2 vote. The matter awaits Legislative approval in 2013.
“Be careful what you wish for,” Rep. Michael Menahan, D-Helena, said before casting one of the two dissenting votes. He said as the system stands now, inmates are eligible for parole after serving one-quarter of their sentencing. (Although let it be noted that we never hear of that happening. Instead we are told that no inmate gets out on his first try or even second try. We hear of cases where DOC has kept an inmates longer, one even after the Supreme Court ruled in his favor, they kept him another 2 years longer.)
Committee member Rep. Ken Peterson, R-Billings, a former parole board chairman, said eliminating parole could lead to more overcrowding in prisons “and you’d have no monetary savings.”
He and Menahan both said the board serves as a buffer between the public and potential parolees.
“The parole board does a great job and does a job that has to be done,” Peterson said. “I don’t know what we’d do if we didn’t have a parole board.”
Rep. Margaret MacDonald, D-Billings, said the resolution did not foreclose on the board but did give “some very much needed oversight for the system. I think these questions are important.”
Murphy said the resolution did not call for elimination of the board, but just for a broad-based review.
The study, which is to be completed by Sept. 15, 2014, must include comments by law enforcement, the Department of Corrections, judges and community service providers. The resolution notes that 15 states have eliminated their parole boards, but it’s the first time recently that it’s been considered in Montana.
The resolution also notes it costs nearly $90 a day to incarcerate an offender but $5 to supervise an offender on parole. And according to the 2011 biennial report of the Board of Pardons and Parole, 72 percent of the correctional population is eligible for parole, but 60 percent are denied on their first appearance before the board.
Data show that from fiscal year 2006-2010 the Board of Pardons and Parole granted parole in 57 percent of the cases where inmates were interviewed.
Of 5,575 cases, the board approved parole for 3,189 offenders. The board interviewed an average of 1,115 offenders a year from FY 2006-2010 and approved parole for an average of 638 inmates each year and denied parole for an average of 477 offenders during that same time period.
Also, according to the report, the typical Montana inmate spends 43 months in prison before being granted parole.
Board members are paid $75 per day for each day they do board business and are reimbursed for expenses. The total reimbursement budget is about $40,425.00 a year. The entire budget for the board is about $748,503 for the current fiscal year and includes salaries for 10 employees.
At the June 22 Law and Justice committee meeting, Parole and Pardons Board Chairman Michael E. McKee said he had been following the committee for several months and heard allegations made by the public against the board and Department of Corrections.
McKee did not specify the allegations, but Law and Justice Committee meetings typically feature family members and friends of inmates claiming people are being denied parole for the wrong reasons or that inmates being forced by the parole board to complete programs not required by the courts.
“I will answer (that) a good part of what I have heard can be summed up, and I will spell it, C-R-A double P,” McKee said.
He said parole board members are not only volunteers appointed by the governor, they are also “people who actually have the ability to grasp and understand what goes on in the system based on their education and background.”
He said the board’s role is to reintegrate people back into the community as early as possible in the hopes they will become law abiding, productive taxpaying citizens.
“That’s our role,” he said. “It’s not to be a repressive entity to keep people in. For crying out loud, we know as individual taxpayers the cost of maintaining facilities and the DOC budget. It’s huge.
“We are trying to move people through the system … but public safety is always and always will be No. 1.”
- Montana, none of us can believe that someone who is Chairman of any board would say that a good part of what he has heard is C-R-A-with a double P. This is not the way to conduct yourself in front of your legislators and only strengthens the complaints on how these board hearings are conducted without any public transparency. The Board of Pardons and Parole still does not want the hearings to be audio taped or video taped for any public viewing. Chairman Senator Jim Shockley even could not understand that request and thought it was unreasonable. The usual belief is, if you do not want it to be transparent then there is something you are hiding.
- You would be amazed at how many organizations are popping up just for the cause to combat the prisons for profit and the alarming high rate of incarceration rates here in Montana. These different organizations alone represent hundreds of inmates and their families from all over their state. It is no longer just families and friends of inmates. If you look on just this one website you will see on the left all of the different links of these organizations that are starting to network together to bring a change to Montana and to be a voice for those that have no voice.
- We have organizations contacting us to join up for the cause. This is no small thing. Those days are over where it was just a handful of people. I do not believe that the Board of Pardons and Parole, nor DOC and other departments realize that. There has been an unrest that is growing in Montana with it’s citizens, way too many are complaining and have documentation of these complaints within the departments and outside of these departments. There are now citizens that work within the field, there are those that are behind the walls and those that work behind the walls, there are families and friends stating the same thing and do not know each other but are starting to make their voices heard, joining efforts as a large group. It is only right for these departments to be studied and to see where the problems lie.
- We have an issue when one wife testifies at the hearing and a Board Of Pardons and Parole Member starts hollering at her to “shut-up” inside the Capitol Building corridor. He did not want her to testify about any complaints against the Board of Pardons and Parole. Finally threatening her with the comment “that you are only making it harder for your husband.” Excuse me? Did he just threaten this past Friday September 7th, 2012 that if she did not “shut-up” she was making it harder for her husband, who goes before the Board of Pardons and Parole in November? This wife ended up crying and one of the legal analysts that works at the Capitol went to confront the member of the board and he admitted to her that yes it was so. After the fact, there is no explanation or excuse to justify this kind of behavior from him. The Executive Director was there also and witnessed it, she tried to get the board member to calm down.
- If this is how they deal with families at the Capitol Building around the Law and Justice and other officials then there is no way that there is any truth in what Mr. Mike McKee stated….that these complaints are C-R-A-double P. If these board members blow up so easily at these kind of hearings then I do not doubt at all that they have a hard time containing themselves at the parole hearings. If these are “people who actually have the ability to grasp and understand what goes on in the system based on their education and background.” as Mike McKee stated then why aren’t they acting like it?
- Representative Ken Peterson states that he does not know what we would do without the parole board. Other states are working without a parole board. This is not a new concept to be feared. We need to start bringing accountability back into the system. We need to look at the data, look at the problems and look at the savings. Judges are already upset that the Board of Pardons and Parole are over-riding their sentences making their own set of conditions and playing judge themselves. More than one judge has stated this now. One even getting angry that they were doing this and said so from the bench. Another stating at the Law and Justice that “no they are absolutely not allowed to over-ride his sentence.” This is not just family and friends when there are organizations, officers, judges, attorneys and the list goes on. We applaud the stance that the Law and Justice is taking on the concerns of not only the Board of Pardons and Parole but with the Department of Corrections also. We hope that change will be coming to the state of Montana in many areas that will be for the good of the Montana citizens, the taxpayers.