Parole Hearing Experiences and Tips for Victims: Part I


My first encounter with a parole hearing occurred in 2013 when the convicted murderer of my father was eligible for parole for the first time.

In order to access justice there are a series of procedures that should be followed by crime victims. The following are examples of such procedures and my tips on how navigate the criminal justice system in regards to parole hearings in my state.

Events and Circumstances Prior to the First Parole Hearing in 2013

Receiving victim notification by phone and a form letter is typically very generic and leads to a great deal of questions. I was put on hold many times as the assigned advocate appeared to be unsure of the answers. Research and frequent consultations with an advocate and attorney who is skilled in their knowledge and implementation of crime victim rights is paramount to getting things done.

If you are assigned the same Advocate over time who appears to know basic procedures, but is not able to assist with anything beyond the typical questions, I recommend going up the chain of command until you do get the appropriate answers.

In order to prepare, you want to find out details of the inmate’s former crimes and activities. In the considerable intervening years of incarceration, laws may have changed, memories fade and facts are really half-truths. You need to verify everything.

A victim advocate who truly does their job, and is not motivated by the status quo and political climate, but one who can truly represent your interests, is the advocate that you want on your side. The system is heavily weighted toward the perpetrator.

In my personal experience, it is not necessary to have a lot of money to get adequate assistance. Terms are often workable and reasonable, as the focus should be on justice and not attorney-advocate’s fees. If all they discuss is money, look for someone else.

As a new victim who is traumatized, this is very difficult, as you innately trust that all parties will do their very best. But, often their best can be mediocre for a number of reasons. In 2013, we truly realized how much in the dark we had been. If not for the efforts of our privately hired advocate, we would not have known the nature and seriousness of the crimes committed by the convict while incarcerated and activities of associates.

Questions that  typically DO NOT receive answers by the Board of Pardons and Parole

(Which forces the family to go through the Freedom of Information process. We did not know this, and were not informed in 2013)

  • The number and type of programs the perpetrator has completed;
  • Will his family be attending the hearing or the other families which he murdered/harmed?
  • Does he have a job?
  • Is he in good health?
  • Does he have family/community support and an exit plan if released?
  • In what town will he be residing?
  • May we have protection?
  • Is he earning a salary currently? Can his salary be designated to a crime victim compensation fund?
  • Can you make available videotaping resources for elderly family members or those who are not up to appearing in person in the future?
  • Why can’t crime victim families receive more advanced notice compared to the prisoner’s time for preparation?
  • How will future changes in good time policies impact this inmate?
  • How has this prisoner been occupying his time for years in prison?
  • Why was he eligible for good time when he attempted to kill correction officers?
  • Was any good time forfeited for this infraction?

When there is so much at stake, victims are worried and scared. They deserve to have responses the the above questions. Lack of response is sometimes due to the DOC Commissioner’s philosophy on prisoner confidentiality; or it’s never been done or asked before!

If you, or your intermediary, can not obtain all of the answers, formulate a written list that can be presented as part of your victim impact statement  There are no guarantees that they will be addressed, but it will be on the record and it is always worth trying.

In 2013, we realized that basic creature comforts for surviving crime victims attending a parole hearing were not even considered. Perhaps this was an oversight, however, the comment that seemed to permeate all of the failures is, it’s never come up before.

Such examples included:

  • Lack of convenient parking or continually feed a parking meter
  • Lack of accessibility for those who are disabled;
  • No prior notification of the building layout;
  • No availability of water, tissues, or personal escorts from parking to the building;
  • No advanced information regarding the juxtaposition of the prisoner, hearing officers and family during the hearing;

Conclusion

The incredible part of this experience was that the victim advocates stated in a matter of fact manner, this has never come up before in 32 years. Advocates had apparently failed to adequately prepare victims and failed to ensure their safety by statute for all this time because no one ever asked before. Had we not been pioneers and made them sit up and pay attention before entering the hearing room, I shudder to think about the consequences.


Donna R. Gore

If  you need assistance with writing a professional Victim Impact Statement, please refer to the Victim Impact Statement FAQ’s on this site.

To schedule a presentation with me at your future event or  conference please contact:

ImaginePublicity,  Telephone: 843.808.0859  Email:  contact@imaginepublicity.com

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