Hollywood does not always mimic real life. Consider “Shawshank Redemption” and the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, for example. In the movie, a parole board meets in a big scene to determine the fate of an inmate. That doesn’t happen in Georgia.
Steve Hayes, director of communications for the five-member Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles told members of the Rome Kiwanis Club Tuesday that in Georgia there are no board meetings to consider parole cases. Instead, each case is pushed through the process electronically. The parole board members are provided complete case files including all the pertinent information regarding the cases electronically in advance of their votes.
“Board members are voting electronically. One member votes and then it goes to the next member and they vote individually and confidentially,” Hayes said. “It’s the same in all cases.” He explained that the voting order varies from one case to the next, with no set pattern.
The board does meet monthly, but those are operational meetings to deal with matters of policy and any operational changes that may be necessary within the agency.
The agency’s operational plan includes engaging community stakeholders, educating the community and encouraging community participation in the process. If the agency is successful with those three E’s, the fourth E will become evident, an enhanced operation that benefits both the community and the parolee.
Hayes made it clear to the civic group that parole is completely discretionary and said at this time approximately 40% of all Georgia inmates are serving their entire sentence.
Life, with the possibility of parole, means the prisoner now becomes eligible for parole at 30 years. In the past that has been as few as seven years. The average life inmate, who does have an opportunity for parole, now spends close to 30 years in prison.
Inmates with a life sentence who are denied parole can have their case reviewed again as early as the following year, or it could be as long as eight years before the case is reviewed.
That is entirely up to a decision of the majority of the board.
In general, Hayes said the parole board follows the recommendations of its clemency division about 80% of the time.
Educating Georgia’s prison population has become a part of the consideration for parole. Hayes said that for the last several years, the Georgia prison population has had more than 3,000 inmates a year complete GED requirements.
“We’re preparing individuals for success, paroling individuals who have completed their programming, have good prison conduct and are returning to society,” Hayes said.
Georgia’s success rate at releasing inmates and having them complete their parole period has been running at approximately 72%, about 15% above the national average. The recidivist rate, that is inmates returning to prison, is still running at approximately 27%, however Hayes cautioned the audience not to consider that a parole failure rate.
“Most who violate parole are not convicted of a new felony. They violate technical terms of their parole release,” Hayes told the Rome News-Tribune following the meeting.