Who Polices Our Parole Boards?
We all know that the facts of a crime do not change, but the person who committed the crime can. While incarcerated my husband chose to grow up, take responsibility for his actions, he has a deep remorse for his mistakes and he’s utilized his time to better himself, which are some of our country’s core principles for parole. While incarceration is a consequence of crime, many inmates including my husband, grow and change and are a low risk for recidivism. My husband has served over 21 years for two charges of attempted armed robbery, while not diminishing the gravity of his crimes, he has been incarcerated longer than the time intended by his sentencing judge, he’s completed all of his court mandated & voluntary programs and paid his debt to society.
Yet, why isn’t he home?
My husband is one of the nearly 3,000 who have been subjected to this double standard in Wisconsin. After several times, once again my husband will be up for parole, but like thousands of other inmates, it’s uncertain that the Wisconsin laws and legislative codes my husband was sentenced under will be upheld, potentially denying him the opportunity to return home.
This is my personal nightmare that I’ve been living for so long. Mainly, because there are no governing rules that apply. Nothing to abide by both as an inmate and secondly as a family serving time.
As one example of the questionable practices and procedures of the parole board, several weeks ago, without any kind of notice for replacement, the Chairperson of the state’s Parole Commission in Wisconsin, Dean Stensberg vacated his seat and postponed promised parole meetings for hundreds of eligible inmates in Wisconsin. In the United States parole is not a privilege, while incarcerated inmates have to work hard to earn parole by serving sufficient time for their crime, maintaining good behavior and meeting court mandated programs and educational requirements, when these conditions are met, some individuals are awarded an opportunity to become productive members of society and remain on parole while not incarcerated. Without a chairperson, the system completely freezes and men and women languish in prison, there was not even an interim appointee available to do the job.
Inquiries made to the governor’s office were dismissive and vague, claiming that the office had no knowledge to share at the time. Many parole eligible men and women who were incarcerated since the last century, before the current Truth in Sentencing legislation came into effect have remained in prison long past the time period intended by their sentencing judge expectation for release. The parole board has the ultimate decision as to who gets out of prison and is a major obstacle in Wisconsin in terms of its reliability. Wisconsin’s Parole Budget allocates funds for seven parole commissioners, but only has three of these positions filled, creating a bottle neck in the parole system. Prior to Mr. Stensberg’s departure the system was already floundering, with only 5% of those eligible receiving parole grants, despite meeting all of the parole requirements.
The long-term consequences of these actions are too costly. Confining a person beyond their appointed time is extremely damaging to them emotionally, psychologically and physically. These prisoners live in a day to day existence, alone, behind bars waiting for the Wisconsin Parole Commission to grant them parole. Many of the remaining 3,000 inmates incarcerated under parole, including my husband deserve a second chance to live outside of prison walls and prove that they can be productive, tax paying citizens. Often the only thing that holds their sanity is the hope of someday leaving those bars, I know personally, this is the case for my husband.
There is no attorney representation for parole hearings, no voice to speak for those languishing in prison waiting for the parole commission positions to be filled instead of the impasse occurs when a parole commissioner decides to leave, and in many situations, those up for parole are plainly denied without a reasonable explanation as to why.
It is a wonder if the decline in parole grants is due to the realization that there will be no need for the parole department once the remaining 3,000 men and women under this old law have been granted parole! Is this the real reason that people remain locked up even after they have met the conditions to be paroled? Without transparency, there is no real way to know, but it is apparent that paroles have slowed to a halt, it is only certain that the parole positions will no longer be needed when the 3,000 go home. It is disappointing that the parole commission is not mandated to adhere to the old laws that these inmates were sentenced under, and these inmates are held to the standards of the new laws designed for truth in sentencing inmates.
My husband along with the other nearly 3,000 have been subjected to this double standard in Wisconsin. My husband has not only served sufficient time, but made good use of it, he has taken advantage of every education opportunity made available to him to ensure that he will be employable when released, he has maintained good behavior, he has full support of our family and friends, and we have a stable home. Once again, my husband will soon be up for parole, but like thousands of other inmates, uncertain that the Wisconsin laws & legislative codes that my husband was sentenced under will be upheld and potentially denying him the opportunity to return home.
We deserve transparency, it is time to begin efforts to fix our broken parole system. Contact the governor’s office in your state, if you reside in Wisconsin you can contact Governor Walker’s office at 608-266-1212 and urge him ensure that the old laws of parole are upheld fairly.