U.S. prisons hold tens of thousands of people who are primarily confined not by the verdicts of a judge or a jury but by the inaction of a parole board, says the Marshall Project in a story published by the Washington Post. In 26 states, parole boards are vested with almost unlimited power to decide who gets out of prison when, and why. iI many states, parole boards are so deeply cautious about releasing prisoners who could come back to haunt them that theyfree only a small fraction of those eligible, and almost none who have committed violent offenses, even those who pose little danger and whom a judge clearly intended to go free.
A recent draft revision of the Model Penal Code, written by legal scholars, declared parole boards “failed institutions.” The draft says, “No one has documented an example in contemporary practice, or from any historical era, of a parole-release system that has performed reasonably well in discharging its goals.” Unlike politicians, who are bound by open records and disclosure laws and are accountable to constituents, parole boards often operate behind closed doors. Their decisions are largely unreviewable by courts or anyone else. Those continually denied parole eventually serve their full sentence and the state loses its legal ability to supervise them. The people deemed too dangerous to release are set free with no conditions and no supervision.