Making Parole Decisions
The Parole Board uses a valid and reliable risk and needs assessment instrument to assist with parole decisions, as well as other nationally recognized assessments.
When determining if an inmate is ready to be paroled, the Parole Board’s decision makers use these principles to guide their decisions:
• Defer to the sentencing court regarding issue of appropriate punishment
• The sentencing court is the arbiter of just punishment
• Ensure all inmates are accurately and consistently evaluated for their readiness to parole to enhance public safety and use a structured decisional instrument
• Because of the significant stakes involved in violent crimes, the Parole Board evaluates violent offenses at a more stringent standard than non-violent offenses
• The Parole Board supports order and safety within the state Department of Corrections (DOC)
Human behavior is difficult to predict. A risk assessment is a statistical tool that does not predict which individual will re-offend, but identifies groups likely to re-offend. The risk assessment may place an inmate in a high risk group, but specifically which inmate in the group will re-offend is difficult to identify.
The Parole Decisional Instrument
The Parole Board uses a Parole Decisional Instrument (PB 361) to analyze individual cases and guide consistency in decision making. The instrument is a guide to advise the decision maker. It does not replace professional discretion and does not bind the Parole Board to grant or deny parole, or create a right, presumption or reasonable expectation that parole will be granted.
The Parole Board is required by law to consider the following factors when considering parole:
• The nature and circumstances of the crime for which the inmate was convicted, as well as his/her entire criminal history, including any juvenile arrests or adjudications
• Information regarding the general character and background of the inmate
• Notes on the sentencing hearing testimony
• Emotional stability: physical, mental and behavioral condition and history of the inmate
• History of family violence
• Recommendation of the sentencing judge and prosecuting attorney
• Input from the victim and the victim’s family
• Recommendation from the warden or superintendent of the facility where the inmate is incarcerated
Other requirements considered are the status of program completion and the person’s adjustment to prison. Incarcerated individuals need to remain misconduct free. The Parole Board looks at all misconducts - this includes all Class I and Class II misconducts - but generally expects people to be misconduct-free for at least a year before release.
After the Interview, the decision to grant or refuse parole is recorded. The Board Action is the only public record that documents the decision of the Parole Board to grant or deny parole. All other records, reports and other written information, evaluations and opinions are protected, confidential and privileged under 37 Pa. Code § 61.2.
The Board Action contains the decision to:
• Parole and the reasons for granting parole and the conditions of parole supervision in the community.
• Refuse parole with specific requirements to be fulfilled by the time of the next parole review is to take place and the reasons for denying parole.
Each case is voted on by the Board Members and Hearing Examiners. How many votes are required per case is determined by the type of offense.