Friday, December 9, 2016

NEWS | False hope: Report examines youth parole releases

By Mary Kuhlman
Ohio News Connection

U.S. Supreme Court rulings have made people who were sentenced to life without parole as juveniles eligible for release from prison, but a new report said very few are being granted parole. "False Hope," a national report from the ACLU, found that across the country, parole boards rarely consider a person's age at the time of the offense in evaluating applications for parole.

According to Sarah Mehta, a human-rights researcher at the ACLU, and the author of the report, with thousands of cases to decide, often the parole board's only consideration is the original crime.

"That's often the only thing they have a chance to see, and not all the extensive rehabilitation, letters of support, low-risk analysis and the other factors that are really important," she explained.

The report said even in states that have full parole hearings, parole is granted to fewer than 20 percent of prisoners serving life sentences.

Studies have shown that people "age out" of criminal activity, no matter how serious the offense. Mehta added that, for people sentenced as teenagers, that can mean decades behind bars, even for those considered model prisoners.

"For parole boards, there hasn't been the political support to release people who are doing well now, if they committed a serious offense 30, 40, 50 years ago, despite what the Supreme Court has said," she said.

The failure to grant parole becomes a racial-justice issue as well. Nationally, Mehta said, people of color are far more likely to be given long sentences.

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