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Oregon Parole Board Cannot Postpone Elapsed Release Date

The Oregon Court of Appeals held on February 15, 2017 that the Oregon Parole Board lacked authority to postpone a prisoner’s release date after that date has passed.

John Jones murdered a woman on May 30, 1988, when he was 17 years old. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. The Oregon Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision (Board) eventually set his release date on June 30, 2012.

Once the Board establishes a release date, the prisoner is entitled to release on that date unless the Board finds that he or she: 1) has engaged in serious misconduct in prison; 2) suffers from a present severe emotional disturbance (PSED) that renders him a danger to the health or safety of the community; or 3) has an inadequate parole plan. See: ORS 144.125. The Board routinely postpones scheduled release dates due to a PSED finding.

Prior to Jones’ June 30, 2012 release date, the Board ordered him to participate in a September 2011 psychological evaluation conducted by a Board-contracted psychologist. The doctor diagnosed him with a mixed personality disorder but concluded he was at low risk of recidivism.

The Board held a November 2011 exit interview to consider affirming or postponing Jones’ release date. Following that hearing, the Board informed him “that the psychological evaluation does constitute a finding that you have a present severe emotional disturbance such as to constitute a danger to the health or safety of the community. This determination is based solely on the psychological evaluation.” The Board then postponed his release for four years, until June 30, 2016, due to a PSED finding.

Jones sought an administrative review of the order. Seven months after his June 30, 2012 release date had elapsed, the Board reconsidered its postponement order and ordered a new psychological evaluation and exit interview hearing. The Board claimed that it did so because the previous evaluation “did not ‘contain enough information one way or the other relevant to the determination required by ORS 144.125(3).’”

A different Board-contracted psychologist then diagnosed Jones with a mixed personality disorder in partial remission. The doctor also found he was “a minimal risk to reoffend in the community.”

The Board held a new exit interview hearing on April 10, 2013 – 10 months after the original June 30, 2012 release date had elapsed – and again approved the postponement of Jones’ release for four years, establishing a new release date of June 30, 2016.

The Court of Appeals reversed the challenged postponement order, holding that “to postpone a petitioner’s release date, the board must establish that a valid statutory reason for postponement exists (or existed) prior to that date.“

“ORS 144.125(3) requires that the board make a valid finding – that is, a finding based on substantial evidence that was available prior to the release date,” the appellate court explained. “Here, to postpone petitioner’s release date, the board had to make a valid finding that petitioner had a PSED before June 30, 2012. It did not do so.”

The case was reversed and remanded, with instructions for the Board to reinstate Jones’ release date. See: Jones v. Board of Parole & Post-Prison Supervision, 283 Or. App. 650, 391 P.3d 831 (Or. App. 2017), review denied. 

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Related legal case

Jones v. Board of Parole & Post-Prison Supervision