Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Delaware’s Parole Board Suffers from Infighting

by David M. Reutter

Internal strife within Delaware’s Board of Parole (Board) has provided ammunition to a move by the governor to abolish the Board. The squabble has resulted in claims that the Board’s chairman is acting without legal authority and refusing to set hearings requested by the other Board members.

The chairman, Dwight E. Holden, who manages the Board’s administrative offices, is the only full-time member. He receives an annual salary of $80,000. The other four Board members serve part-time and earn around $9,000 a year.

Since parole was abolished for offenses committed after June 30, 1990, the number of prisoners who fall under the Board’s jurisdiction has steadily dwindled. However, the Board has other duties. Among those are hearing the appeals of “tier designations” for sex offenders convicted prior to 1994.

A tip to the hotline of State Auditor R. Thomas Wagner resulted in a special investigation that found a lack of financial supervision and lack of oversight of the Board’s administrative office employees. The investigation caught the attention of Governor Jack Markell’s office, which sent Joseph Hickey, a deputy human resources director from the Office of Management and Budget, to work with the Board members and staff to find solutions.

An agreement was reached, which provided that Board members would not get involved in office matters and Holden would seek to follow the Board’s advice and recommendations. On March 24, 2010, Board members asked Holden in an email why he had not scheduled requested meetings. “Mr. Holden responded back that the Board is harassing him and he is boss,” said a timeline sent to Gov. Markell’s office by one of the Board members.

At issue were tier-designation hearings. “You were looking at people who had been out all these years. They’ve never done another thing wrong, living a good life in the community and all of a sudden they get a letter in the mail: you’re going to be tier III, your picture on the Internet, your neighbors notified,” stated Board member James F. Justice.

Holden contended that he had a legitimate reason for not scheduling the hearings. “Everything is either generated from the Department of Correction or the Attorney General’s Office. The AG’s office had a couple young [deputy attorney generals] going out on maternity leave. Why schedule hearings if they’re not going to be represented?” Holden noted.

When a reporter from the News Journal asked Holden how Board members were harassing him, he replied, “You know what it was? There was a series of emails going back and forth. I had expressed that the AG had a right to be present at the hearing, and they said they didn’t care if the AG was there or not. Common sense says you shouldn’t do that.”

Frustrated with Holden’s inaction, Board members filed a petition with Superior Court President James T. Vaughn, Jr., asking him to order Holden to schedule more hearings. The matter was taken under advisement and apparently later resolved without a court order.

A larger problem for Holden concerns claims that he has released prisoners without Board approval or by overriding the Board’s recommendations. By law, a majority vote of the Board is required to release a prisoner from prison, known as Level V, to supervision in the community, known as Level III or lower.

Upon such a majority vote, Holden issues a Board order. “Recently he took a person from Level V to Level III, and then just recently – and I questioned him on this – he took [another] person from Level V to Level III,” said Board member George H. Williamson III. “Why this bothers us is if a person commits a crime or does something wrong while he’s at this level, it is possible [it will] come back and haunt the Board and even the state, who technically released him on what was not a lawful order.”

Strife between Holden and the other Board members began when Holden backed a 2009 legislative proposal by Gov. Markell to abolish the Board and consolidate its functions into the Department of Correction as a cost-saving measure. The move would have saved Holden’s job but axed the positions of the other four Board members. Those four members opposed the bill, which failed to pass.

“With the internal strife that’s going on, it only weakens the position to keep the Board,” said state Sen. Bruce Ennis, chairman of the Senate Adult and Juvenile Corrections Committee and a member of the Joint Finance Committee. “We are aware of many of the allegations and complaints made on each side of this issue. ... At this point, the administration is more focused on the permanent solution of abolishing the Board than on short-term changes in membership or the chair,” Gov. Markell’s office remarked.

The fate of Delaware’s Board of Parole will likely be raised during the next legislative session in 2011. Crime victims have argued against abolishing the Board, saying it gives them an opportunity to protest against releasing prisoners on parole.

Source: News Journal

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login