California parole authorities are in trouble with the courts again because of 3,200 overdue parole hearings and broken promises to eliminate the backlog, the Sacramento Bee reports. Prisoners have been waiting – sometimes for months, sometimes for more than two years – beyond statutory dates for hearings that could lead to their release. While they’ve waited, the parole board’s backlog has exploded. In the spring of 2001, 2,058 cases were overdue for hearings, and the board said in court that it needed 21 months to catch up. Today, however, the backlog has increased by 55 percent.
Calling the growth rate “alarming,” Marin County Superior Court Judge Verna Adams has ordered “immediate measures” to comply with the laws that determine when a prisoner is eligible to be considered for parole. Allowing the board to deal with the backlog as it has done in the past “will not only fail to solve the problem, it will exacerbate it,” Adams said. She told the state to present a remedial plan at a hearing scheduled for March 23. “There’s only three things you can do,” said Brian Taugher, a former chief counsel to the parole board. “You can hear (the cases) less frequently. You can add more people to hear them. Or you can reduce the population who need hearings by granting parole more frequently. That’s just mathematics.” Taugher’s option of granting more paroles would take a major policy change at the parole board and in the governor’s office. Currently about 75 prisoners are paroled each year, having received the board’s blessing and in murder cases, that of the governor.