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Abstract

In theory, parole is a possibility for tens of thousands of California inmates; in practice, it has been an illusion. California's parole system releases a tiny number of inmates each year, transforming most indeterminate sentences with the possibility of parole into sentences of life-without-parole. As recently as the 1980s, approximately 20% of California inmates with indeterminate life sentences received parole. Since then, the proportion of inmates paroled has decreased dramatically to less than 1%, compounding problems of severe prison overcrowding. Fearing the political consequences of releasing convicted offenders, recent governors have appointed "tough on crime" parole board members who are unlikely to grant parole. In 2006, the Bureau of Parole Hearings ("parole board" or "board") rejected 99.5% of parole applications from eligible inmates. Even when the board approves parole, the Governor can-and frequently does-reverse the decision. Typically, the board and Governor rely on the commitment offense to deny parole, regardless of the offender's rehabilitation and good prison behavior. This Comment explores the due process implications of using the commitment offense as a basis for parole denials. It examines recent California Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit cases and argues that parole decisions should weigh the commitment offense less heavily than rehabilitative progress after the expiration of the minimum sentence term.

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