Friday, January 30, 2015

Isaac Fulwood retiring from U.S. Parole Commission; wouldn’t mind a selfie with Obama

There’s one issue, perhaps the only one, that Republicans and Democrats seem to agree on: reducing the population of the nation’s crowded and expensive prisons, partly through reducing sentences for low-level and nonviolent offenders.

One person who would be expected to be at the table for high-level strategizing on the issue is the chairman of the U.S. Parole Commission, former D.C. police chief Isaac Fulwood Jr. But Fulwood, who’s leaving the post this week after nearly six years as chairman, has yet to meet President Obama or have a one-on-one meeting with Attorney General Eric Holder, whose centerpiece initiative has been “smart on crime” prison reform, our colleague Sari Horwitz reports. (Oh, yes: The Parole Commission is part of the Justice Department.)


Note:  Parole in the federal system applies to those convicted prior to 1987.  In addition to offenders who committed federal crimes prior to 1987, there is a second group of offenders eligible for federal parole—those who violated the laws of the District of Columbia.  A third group of offenders eligible for parole are military offenders.  All other offenders are currently ineligible for parole.
The parole process begins at sentencing. Unless the court has specified a minimum time for the offender to serve, or has imposed an "indeterminate" type of sentence, parole eligibility occurs upon completion of one-third of the term. If an offender is serving a life sentence or a term or terms of 30 years or more he or she will become eligible for parole after 10 years.
The law says that the U.S. Parole Commission may grant parole if (a) the inmate has substantially observed the rules of the institution; (b) release would not depreciate the seriousness of the offense or promote disrespect for the law; and (c) release would not jeopardize the public welfare.  This is largely a subjective decision on the part the Commission and one that can be and often is unduly influenced by agencies of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)--the Federal Bureau of Investigation, for example.  The Parole Commission, while technically operating under the umbrella of the DOJ, was established by legislation on May 13, 1930, as an independent board (presumably for the sake of justice and fairness, the stated goals of the Commission's mission statement).  In practice, however, nothing could be further from the truth. 
Criminal justice reform is an issue, of course:  perhaps parole should be reinstated, perhaps parole guidelines revised, perhaps the U.S. Parole Commission should follow its current guidelines (and there is proof that it doesn't)? 
At any rate, the current status of parole in the federal system (which can only be changed by the U.S. Congress) and the alleged independence of the Commission may be the reason why the Commission has been excluded from DOJ's (AG Eric Holder's) reform efforts.  Poor Mr. Fulwood.

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