Friday, April 29, 2011

Less Gubernatorial Interference with Parole For Lifers Under Brown

More this morning from the Chron on the Era of Jerry: Governor Brown interferes with parole board recommendations of parole for lifers much less than his predecessor.

Brown has reviewed 130 decisions by the Board of Parole Hearings granting release to murderers sentenced to life with possible parole and has approved 106, or 81 percent, according to the governor's office. He has vetoed 22 paroles and sent two back to the board for new hearings.

In comparison, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger approved about 30 percent of lifers' paroles. Former Gov. Gray Davis - who declared early in his term that "if you take someone else's life, forget it" - vetoed 98 percent of murderers' parole cases he considered.

Now, here's the nice bit, in which happily, facts somewhat trump the fear-mongering public-safety rhetoric:

For those who see crime as the overriding issue, Brown said, state records show that only a small fraction of the 900 life-sentenced prisoners paroled in the past 15 years have committed new crimes, compared with nearly 70 percent of other parolees.

Of course, even these cited statistics are presented in an inaccurate manner: The 70 percent non-lifer recidivists are, for the most part, parole violators, so their recidivism reflects not so much a return to a criminal career as the type of conditions they are subject to after release. A new report from Pew contains data that is sensitive to this breakdown. In 2004, for example, California's 58% recidivism rate was comprise of 40% parole violators and only 18% commissions of new crimes. And, as the report states,

[i]n some states, released offenders who break the rules of their supervision are routinely punished with a short prison stay. California, for example, has for years taken this route, an approach that has helped to keep its prison population the highest in the nation.

Setting aside this misleading slant on recidivism rates, it is still refreshing to see Brown's administration paying attention to lifers' low recidivism rates without apologetic or panic-generating rhetoric. The low recidivism rates of lifers can be attributed to age as well as to the type of crime (murder does not tend to be an offense that generates recidivism.)

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