Search results for flopped

Flopped. That is what the men in prison call it when they go in front of the parole board and get back a disappointing decision. Essentially, the board defers a decision but the men will be allowed to petition and be heard again in 2-10 years.

In July, I wrote about my day with the parole board where I observed two “Murder Review” hearings.   As I wrote then, the stated purpose of such hearings is to:  ”determine whether or not the inmate is likely to be rehabilitated within a reasonable period of time so that the offender’s sentence may be converted to life with the possibility of parole, post-prison supervision, or work release.”

To give a quick summary, the cases I sat in on were both for aggravated murder; the question was whether the convicted men could prove themselves “rehabilitatable” so that they might have the possibility of parole at a future date.

The first man presented over 100 pages of records, proof, and testimony that he has worked hard in his 20-years in prison to change and grow.  He has “programmed” persistently and thoroughly, participating in many educational and cognitive courses and experiences over the years.  His crime was a truly horrifying case of domestic violence – there really is no excuse for that crime and no making up for it, and the man acknowledges that.  Members of the victim’s family came to testify at the hearing, and their grief and pain was readily apparent.  They fear his possible release 10 or more years in the future, and they hope that he will serve natural life in prison.   The district attorney who attended the hearing called this man “a monster” and also asked that he be found “not likely to be rehabilitated in a reasonable amount of time.”

Three months later, the decision is in and the man was flopped.  He can petition to go in front of the parole board to attempt to prove himself “rehabilitatable” again in two years.  I’m told it could have been worse; he could have been flopped for 10 years.

He has about 9 years left on the mandatory part of his sentence, so he had no hope of getting out any time soon.  But I’m left to wonder, what does it do to one’s psyche when you are told you are not rehabilitatable and given a list of reasons why the parole board believes that is the case.   It’s hard to imagine a more negative label.

The man just got the decision from the parole board this week and he is still processing it.  He’s trying to figure out what more he could have done and what more he can do over the next years to prove himself worthy of the possibility of a second chance.  I don’t know what it will take for him to get a more favorable decision; it’s obviously difficult to prove and judge change and possibility.  I am very glad that I was simply an observer in this process.   I would hate to have to go in front of a board every 2 years to prove my possible future worth or to have to sit in judgment on someone else’s.

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How to incite public panic: the Oregonian newspaper offers an example in an article entitled “Oregon Court Ruling Could Shave Years from Killers’ Sentences”. The first lines read:

Thirty killers in Oregon could get out of prison up to a decade early following a court ruling that parole officials haven’t followed the law.

The pool of killers eligible for such release could be up to 250 over the next 15 years, state authorities said.

The convicts are serving life terms for aggravated murder with minimum 30-year sentences. The state Supreme Court recently declared those convicts are eligible for freedom after 20 years.

The article goes on to detail the graphic nature of the crimes of several men in question, naming names while reminding the public that each of those men is a convicted killer and may soon be living amongst them.  At the point, the fear apparently takes over for the vast majority of people who took the time to comment on the newspaper’s website.  A careful reading of the article, however, makes clear that the only real change in the law is  that a relatively small percentage of individuals whom the Parole board has deemed “rehabilitatable” after spending more than 20 years in prison will have a chance to go before the Board again this summer with the possibility of release by the end of the year.  Nothing is guaranteed.  Convicted killers will not be flooding the streets.

Last summer I blogged about the day I spent with the parole board listening to them conduct two “murder review” hearings, where they decided if the persons in question were “rehabilitatable” and might have earned the chance to one day return to the community.  I was impressed with the Parole Board members’ attention and thoughtfulness.  The case I primarily went to view was “flopped;” that individual will continue to work on his issues and will see the Parole Board in 2 more years to again plead his case.

The newspaper printed a sidebar with the names of 30 convicted killers and the dates they will see the Parole Board this summer.  It was particularly interesting to me because I know at least six of those 30 men quite well; they have been students in my college courses in the prisons and several of them are leaders in inmate clubs.  They seem to have worked hard to redeem what is left of their lives and to – perhaps against the odds – become decent men while growing up and maturing in prison.

Do they deserve another chance?  The Parole Board has already found this select group rehabilitatable, which suggests that they might.  Does justice require a minimum of 30 years in prison rather than a minimum of 20?  I’m not sure how to judge that.  How much are those extra 10 years worth, both in terms of what the citizens will pay for incarceration and what the convicted will pay as they try to rebuild lives?  How much will those extra 10 years change the odds for the “convicted killers” who are likely to reenter the community one day in the future?

I don’t know.  The Parole Board has a thankless job in any case, but sensationalistic news articles and headlines seem particularly destructive when they incite moral panic without revealing the true issues and questions behind the story.