RELEASE RULES: Parole Board Proposes Changes

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The Iowa Board of Parole wants to change some of the requirements used to decide whether an offender gets out of prison early.  Tuesday, the board took its case to lawmakers for approval.

“We read and review stories and cases every day that are atrocious,” says Parole Board Chair Jason Carlstrom at a hearing before the Administrative Rules Committee.

Carlstrom wants to use a new risk assessment tool to help in their decisions.  Instead of a number based system, the assessment would follow a low, moderate to high risk scale.

“It does take into consideration the level of the crime that the inmate is currently serving time for, but it also takes into consideration their prior criminal history,” says Carlstrom.

Right now, the state requires at that least four of the five parole board members vote on the release of the highest risk offenders.  It's called the Super Majority Voting requirement.  Carlstrom is asking lawmakers to lower the number to three.

“You feel comfortable in reducing the number of votes for a high scoring inmate to get parole?” asked State Rep. Guy Vander Linder (R) District 75.

“I feel comfortable reducing the number of votes,” says Carlstrom.  “Our primary goal is safety.”

“I don`t see how changing the rule to allow a three out of five vote would enhance the public safety,” says Karl Schilling with the Iowa Organization for Victim Assistance.

Schilling and crime victims themselves need more convincing.

“I want them changed for the right reason.  Right now, it seems like the purpose is to expedite for budgetary relief as opposed to letting people out because they deserve to be out,” says victim and advocate Larry Wohlgemuth.

The legislative rules committee did not ask for a session delay which means the changes should go into effect on December 5th.  It’s important to note that the Department of Corrections decides which prisoners should even go before the Parole Board and members must still reach a unanimous decision before parole is granted.