April 4, 2013

State Parole Board responds to letter

— (Editor’s note: The State Board of Pardons and Paroles offers the following in response to the guest column dated March 26 by Brenda Hoffmeyer, Victim Services director for the Victim/Witness Assistance Program of the district attorney’s office of the Conasauga Judicial Circuit.)

While the Board disagrees with Ms. Hoffmeyer’s assessments and the information on which she bases them, we agree that the safety of our children and citizens will always be our main objective.

The Board has not changed policy regarding offenders who commit violent criminal acts, particularly sex offenses, and the examples referenced by Ms. Hoffmeyer do not represent the accuracy of the situation.

Last fiscal year, the Board made more than 60,000 votes regarding offender cases. Ms. Hoffmeyer described three cases indicating the offenders should not receive favorable parole consideration based on time served. However, Ms. Hoffmeyer’s information is not completely accurate. In two of the three cases, she cited incorrect information on the offender’s amount of time served, reporting incorrectly that the offenders had served 30 percent or less of their sentences. In one case, she indicated the offender would serve only 30 percent if paroled last month; however that offender has actually served 60 percent of his sentence.

Ms. Hoffmeyer also states that the offenders’ cases should all be level 8 cases and, according to Board policy, the offenders should serve a minimum of 65 percent of their sentence. It should be noted that if the offender’s crime was committed prior to Jan. 1, 2006, the case is not classified as a level 8 offense. Pre-2006 cases of this nature are classified as level 5 crimes and recommended service time is not based on a percentage of the sentence. The case of Robert Lamar Smith, according to Board guidelines, was not a level 8 offense because he committed his crime prior to Jan. 1, 2006.

Ms. Hoffmeyer also incorrectly characterizes the law regarding notifications. State law (OCGA 17-17-13) provides that the Parole Board must give 20 days’ advance notification to a registered victim whenever it considers making a final decision to grant parole and the Board shall provide the victim with an opportunity to file a written objection to such action. This was done in each case cited by Ms. Hoffmeyer. The 72-hour notification Ms. Hoffmeyer cites (OCGA 42-9-47) is to notify victims, the district attorney, presiding judge, sheriff and other necessary parties that a final release decision has been made.

The Board certainly can understand the need for violent offenders, particularly sex offenders, to serve most, if not all, of their time in prison. In all parole cases, the Board must weigh the offender’s risk to re-offend as well as their potential for successful transition back into the community and then exercise its constitutional discretion to grant or deny parole. Ms. Hoffmeyer is correct in that the Board has a difficult job, however the Board accepts this challenging responsibility and stands behind each decision it makes.

Finally, the Board values input from victims and they will always be given the opportunity to have a voice in the parole process. The Department of Corrections and the Board operate a fully staffed Office of Victim Services, which advocates 24/7 for the victims of crime. This staff has a direct line of communication with the Parole Board members. The Board will continue to hold Victims Visitors’ Days where victims can meet directly with Board members. Victims are always able to correspond with the Office of Victim Services at anytime.

The Board continues to be committed to victims, victims’ rights and to working with victim advocates across Georgia.