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Assessing Evil - Decision Behaviour and Parole Board Justice

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 1983
27 pages
This essay on parole board decisionmaking emphasizes the differential moral thresholds of parole board members which influence their decision and argues that greater consensus is needed regarding the minimum time that different offenders should serve to atone for their crimes.
The parole decision is symbolically significant because it constitutes a statement about good and evil, desert and punishment, to both prisoners and society. Parole boards are also affected by the conflicting penal ideologies of rehabilitation versus punishment. To illustrate parole processes and the character of parole board decisionmaking, the author describes a case observed in one State where a seven-member parole board with wide discretion considered parole for a 32-year-old male serving a 20- to 40-year sentence for rape, after having been imprisoned previously for breaking and entering and assault to rape. Parole was granted, with the image of the reformed prisoner winning over the image of the repetitive rapist. In practice, each decisionmaker must organize vast amounts of information to make sense of a case. Careers of deviance possess an almost infinite pliability which can be bent to serve very different interpretations. Furthermore, when a prisoner has reached the moral threshold and atoned by serving time, it is easier to recast judgment of pathology. This situation tilts a parole board's working presumption against release to one which looks for a good reason to refuse the prisoner. The article contains 17 footnotes and 22 references.

Date Published: January 1, 1983