They are trained at putting tough questions to convicted murderers, but California’s powerful parole board commissioners have found themselves on the other side of the table lately, under interrogation in a political conflict that has cost some of them their jobs. On one side is Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican who routinely appoints former law enforcement officials to the Board of Parole Hearings, which decides whether to release the most serious criminals from prison. On the other is state Senate leader Don Perata, a Democrat who believes commissioners deny parole to deserving inmates far too often, reports the Los Angeles Times.
Since January, Democratic senators have rejected four of the eight commissioners they have grilled at confirmation hearings, ousting a third of the 12-member board and forcing Schwarzenegger to replace them. The upheaval has further disrupted an already problem-plagued board that has postponed thousands of parole hearings in recent years, potentially exposing the state to hefty fines from a Superior Court judge. Perata has called the board “a sham” for denying parole to 95% of so-called life inmates, many of whom have been locked up for decades. He has urged the governor to appoint commissioners from outside the law enforcement world.