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Controversial Report Criticizes Director of Idaho Parole Commission

by Matt Clarke

In February 2010, the Idaho legislature’s Office of Performance Evaluations (OPE) released an audit report titled “Increasing Efficiencies in Idaho’s Parole Process.” Among other things, the report critiqued Olivia Craven, Executive Director of the Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole, for failing to have a formal grievance procedure for commission employees and for making them fearful of retaliation should they raise complaints.

In a strongly-worded response, Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter criticized and rejected the report. Idaho Department of Corrections Director Brent D. Reinke separately rejected the OPE report, too. Both said the auditors lacked understanding of the problems facing the parole commission.

Of the 26 recommendations made in the report, Craven agreed with only three, disagreed with four and agreed with but refused to implement one. By far, the most controversial recommendation was that Craven establish “a formal, commission-specific communication and grievance process to improve the working relationship between management and staff and ensure all staff are treated fairly.”

Expounding on the need for a formal grievance process, OPE explained that several commission staffers were reluctant to participate in the performance evaluation, “citing concerns about retaliation from their immediate supervisor or the executive director.” In fact, 40% of commission staffers expressed concerns ranging “from frustration with management to being fearful of retaliation by the executive director.”

Governor Otter called that part of the report “an unprecedented and troubling departure” that “undermines the findings of a report otherwise conducted in an objective and professional manner.”

However, the OPE report maintained that staff morale affects efficiency, and was therefore a legitimate subject in an efficiency evaluation.

State Rep. Maxine Bell, a member of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee (JLOC), which oversees the OPE, noted that it “really is unprecedented for a performance audit to come out and say, ‘Nobody likes their boss.’” Yet she was “disappointed” by the governor’s response because “it doesn’t serve to help the issue, which is to help them be more effective in the business of paroling people in a timely manner.”

Craven, 61, a former parole officer with no college degree, has headed the commission for 25 years. She is known as a 16-hour-a-day workaholic and has been criticized for her proprietary attitude which she expresses by habitually calling the parole board members “my commissioners.”

“Maybe I’m cranky and biased, but I kinda think, ‘You work for them, not the other way around,’” said Rep. Bill Killen, the House Democratic Caucus Chair and one of the two legislators who had requested the audit. “It’s clear, rightfully or wrongfully, the employees are scared to death. The big message was that the director runs an extremely tight ship. In fact, it’s so tight that I’m not sure anyone’s vision comes to light except her own.”

Rep. Killen’s comments were validated by the fact that Craven had intercepted a draft OPE survey that commission employees were to respond to online, which would go directly to the auditors with confidentiality assured. Instead, Craven met with the staff members and instructed them to give their responses to the supervisor who manages parole hearing officers. This prompted the OPE auditors to conduct personal interviews with commission employees rather than rely on the survey.

Almost lost in the political in-fighting was the fact that the OPE report found Idaho had wasted around $6.8 million between January 2007 and September 2009 by keeping prisoners beyond their tentative parole dates (TPD). Of course, Craven, Reinke and Otter rejected that finding as well, arguing there are many public safety or administrative reasons that a parole release might be delayed.

While that is certainly true, it does not explain the report’s finding that whereas almost 40 percent of prisoners were paroled on time in 2004, only 17 percent were timely released in 2008. Nor does it explain why the percentage of prisoners being held from six months to a year after their TPD grew from 6% to 16% between 2004 and 2008.

Considering that Idaho’s prison system housed only 7,283 prisoners in 2009 (up from 1,339 in 1985) and paroled just 2,017 prisoners during the audit period, one would expect the governor and DOC director to express a greater interest in what was presented in the OPE report as a waste of almost $7 million dollars – as well as training and communication problems affecting the parole commission’s efficiency.

“The thing that stood out the most was the governor’s rejection of the report,” observed Rep. Cliff Bayer, co-chair of the JLOC. “The sensitivity of it lies in personnel, morale and a possible lack of willingness to disclose. I think everybody should be receptive to constructive criticism.”

Sources: Idaho Statesman; Office of Performance Evaluations, Report No. 10-02

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