During the time I taught in prison, about ten men asked me to be their citizen representative at their parole hearing. I did it because nobody else would, but I wasn’t the right person. I didn’t have access to the files that the parole board had. I didn’t see the letters for and against an inmate.

What surprised me was how negative these hearings were. I never – repeat never – heard one positive thing about a man. And everyone I represented had tremendous talent. The parole hearing was not an adversarial discussion, like a trial. No one spoke for the inmate, except an uninformed citizen –me. The parole board members got a handsome per diem, the prison staff made a good salary. I didn’t make anything. If a man’s mother was in the audience, they might acknowledge her, but not give her a chance to speak.

One hearing stands out. My friend, call him Mike, asked me to speak for him. I’d worked a lot with Mike and I knew him well. I mentioned how he helped other inmates, he even stopped an attack on a neighbor. I told about his writing ability, about his plans for his release. He had everything going for him, family, friends, and the chaplain.

His social worker spoke up. “I do not recommend this man. The guards found a cell phone in his unit and I know he’s back in the drug trade.”

Mike spoke up. “The guards searched my unit in the prison and they found a cell phone in a sock. I just want to point out it wasn’t even my sock.”

Mike, of course, couldn’t say that the cell phone belonged to his roommate, but everyone in the hearing knew that. The roommate was the kind of man who didn’t own up to his own actions.

Another social worker came into the hearing. “I know this is unusual, but I must speak up about Mike. He is not in the drug trade. Yes, he did use the cell phone once to see how his buddy was doing in the hospital. But that’s it. He’s been clean and deserves parole.”

I admired her courage and her willingness to speak out, but Mike lost. The real owner of the cell phone got out a month later and Mike spent a year and a half more in prison, with a cost to the taxpayer of around $50,000.

No one, except the second social worker, spoke out for Mike. Of course, I did, too, but I was easy for the parole board to ignore. The parole hearing was a negative fest, everything that was bad about Mike was said and nothing of the good.

I wondered if his prison records were anything like this – all negative. When Mike was getting out of prison, he gave me his thick file to look at. It was amazing. Negative from day one. It seemed that comments repeated themselves. If someone made a comment when Mike was 15, it came up again when he was 19. And there was no mention of his personality, of his willingness to help other guys, of his sense of humor and so on.

Prison specializes in negativity. It’s time for reform.

  1. I’ve attended one Parole Board hearing. It was a disgraceful travesty. The Board has a Code of Conduct and this hearing violated every one of its provisions.
    Board members are extremely well paid, incidentally. They are Governor-in-Council appointments (that is, they are political appointments), whose pay is set by classification, but no one is less that a Class 4. They can be full- time or part-time. The hearing I attended had one of each (total of 2). The full-time member, a former Correctional Officer, who said almost nothing, for which he is paid $111,400-131,000 per year. The other was a weird, vicious, obnoxious loony, who specialised in being really ugly, except when he permitted someone else to speak (not often and not for long), which he ostentatiously ignored. For this, he is paid $615-720 per day (plus expenses at First-Class rates). They rejected the parole application, of course, since to do otherwise would have required thought, and neither seemed capable of it. Just exactly what you would expect from Vic Toews and the Harper Government. I filed an appeal in view of their many violations of process, but the response from the Board was that they would not consider it (PBS appeals are just file reviews) since that would take six months and it was only four months until this inmate’s statutory release date. Like the rest of Canada’s correctional system, PBC is worse than useless, and, evidently, they like it that way. The Office of the Correctional Investigator reports that scheduled parole hearings are often postponed and never held because CSC reports that the inmate has not had the required rehabilitation programs, which CSC claims and is required to deliver but doesn’t. Another utterly disgraceful, and completely typical, aspect of this system.

    • Ed Griffin says:

      Chris, I’d like to say you’re wrong, you’re too negative, but your comments made me think. I must have attended ten of these hearings, representing the guys. But I can think of only one success and maybe another one. And you are right — they were terribly negative, not mentioning any of the strengths the guy had.

  2. jcommittedk says:

    As sad as it is to say, my experience with parole hearings and prison records is similar but with one proviso. The tone CSC/PBC chooses determines the result. Officials can choose all the negatives things in a person’s file to look at if they do not want him released, even if all the negative things happened 10 or more years ago. Once they decide release is a good idea, it’s like they are talking about a different person. Instead of having a balanced report that reflects the person’s strengths, areas of growth, and areas of risk and how to manage them, the reports either ignore all the good or all the bad, depending on the decision they want. I have attended three parole hearings. Two were successful. It was a good feeling to be at the successful ones but in retrospect, I do not believe that either type of hearing does justice. I do not understand why the world seems to require black and white.

    • Ed Griffin says:

      Thanks, Joanne. Interesting. I’ve had only two successful hearings so maybe I’m wrong. But even those hearings were negative. (“We’re letting you go today, even though…blah, blah, blah.)The bad record comes out anyway.

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