Saturday, June 5, 2010

Parole: Denied

First, I just want to acknowledge that Michael just had a birthday. Having been sent to prison at 18, he turned 51 on June 1st.

On the second of June I received word that Michael had been denied parole for something like the seventh or eighth time. I don't know that he was hopeful, but it would be an understatement to say that the specifics of the denial are anguish inducing.

First, a step back. When I visited Michael in April, he had been meeting with a prison psychologist. As is general practice, her report would be part of the file shared with the parole board. In the course of their conversation, she said something about him being a sex offender. He was horrified. Never has that been a part of his past. He was, of course, upset. She ended the interview. Then, he wondered, was it a set-up? Did she say that only to see how he would react? If you don't know much about prison, let me tell you that sex offenders are the lowest of the low. As my drill sergeant would have said, "Lower than whale shit and that lies on the bottom of the ocean." Not only was he upset that his file was incorrect, but that it was that, of all things. Several days after I left he met with her again. Lo' and behold, she stated that the record had been incorrect and apologized. Okay, fast forward.

First I heard that he had gone before four members of the parole board and was told that the vote was 2-2. He was told that he would then go before the full board. The next thing, I found out that he had been denied. Not only was he denied, but he found out from an inmate before he got the news! See, in Ohio, offender information is available online. You can see the parole date, etc. Apparently an inmate's wife was checking on some of the guys that she knew had gone before the board. Bad news travels fast.

Then, Michael received the official letter. His next review is October 2012. That's two years and five months. But, it's worse. Although I've not seen the actual letter yet, he tells me that under the section labeled "Rationale," the board representative wrote that the victim had been stabbed 60 times. I'm not splitting hairs over whether it really matters that is was 37 and not 60. What does, I think, matter is that the record keeping is so careless.

The letter goes on to say, "Offender has done over 32 years, has decent programs and only one ticket that resulted in segregation since last hearing. Extensive criminal record and was just released from juvenile supervision. Due to prior criminal record and very vulnerable victim this offender's release would not be consistent with the welfare and security of society." The box that is checked contains the standard language: "There is substantial reason to believe that due to the serious nature of the crime, the release of the inmate into society would create undue risk to public safety, or that due to the serious nature of the crime, the release of the inmate would not further the interest of justice or be consistent with the welfare and security of society."

Read that again closely. First, the "extensive criminal record" consisted of juvenile offenses for petty theft, marijuana possession, and other things consistent with his adjudication as delinquent and commitment to the Ohio Youth Commission. I don't believe that there were any violent crimes on his record. His arrest for Henry Cordle's murder was his first arrest as an adult. The language "extensive criminal record" and "prior criminal record" makes it sound, to me, like we're to think that, as an adult, he had a lengthy and violent criminal history. This was not the case.

But, consider this as well. Between now and October 2012, the italicized sections in the excerpt above, will not change. That is, the rationale that is provided says, essentially, Even though 'offender has done over 32 years, has decent programs . . .' the specifics of his life at the time of the conviction and the specifics of the conviction prohibit his release." What can change that will satisfy the parole board? Apparently nothing.

I realize that the US abandoned a rehabilitative model of corrections long ago. It's all about retribution, punishment, isolation. But, why, then, even have a parole system? Nobody - nobody, nobody, nobody - can change the circumstances of his or her life prior to incarceration. And, nobody can change the circumstances of the crime for which s/he was convicted. If that's the case, then doesn't a parole review have to consider what you've done during your incarceration? How much time has past? Have you "paid your debt to society"? If a parole board is only interested in facts that cannot be changed, there's no point in going through the motions.

Let me be clear. I wholeheartedly believe that Michael is innocent of the murder of Henry Cordle. But, since the parole board doesn't think so, let's look at this from the perspective of someone who believes him to be guilty. What about the time served? The programs completed? The maturity? The parole system seems to have decided that what Michael has done - or not done - since 21 Dec 1977 is meaningless. All that matters are the circumstances of his life prior to that date. And, those he cannot change.

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