by Benjamin Tschirhart
Each year, thousands of Nebraska prisoners go before the state Parole Board, hoping to return to their lives and their families. But when board members don’t show up for work, people often stay in prison instead of going home.
That’s because the board needs at least three of its five members present to hear a case. But as reported by the Flatwater Free Press on March 25, 2022, the full board was present for only 37% of the 6,521 hearings held over a nearly 43-month stretch from May 21, 2018, to December 8, 2021.
Moreover, an analysis of votes in those hearings shows that when even one member is absent, the approval rate for parole petitions drops significantly, from 62.6% to 56.2%.
And, of course when fewer than three members are present, parole cannot be granted at all.
Even at a hearing with three members — still technically capable of voting to grant parole — a single ‘no’ vote becomes a veto, allowing one board member to overrule the other two. Out of all those hearings each year, just three members are present 23.9% of the time, and four members are on-hand 38.6% of the time.
These absences are crucially important to the individuals who must return to prison instead of to their families. To them, each hearing is highly personal. But even to Nebraskans with no personal connection to a prisoner, there is a cost. Each of the governor-appointed board members draws a salary of $84,712, except for chairperson Rosalyn Cotton, who is paid $92,787. All five positions are full-time, and members are barred from holding second jobs.
Although Cotton insists that “the absence or attendance of any individual board member does not … influence the outcome of a particular hearing,” the Flatwater Free Press analysis concluded that board member absences have kept up to 200 prisoners behind bars longer than necessary, also costing the state hundreds of thousands of dollars over the months studied.
Mario Paparozzi, former chairman of New Jersey’s parole board and a prominent parole researcher, points out that even a single absent member can disrupt the balance of ideologies represented by the full board. He does not agree that these absences have no effect on hearing outcomes, saying “If you’re a parole board member, you should be at the hearings, period.”
Source: Flatwater Free Press
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