A new audit shows that the state agency charged with determining when criminal offenders are safe to return to society is deeply disorganized and sometimes makes parole decisions based on inaccurate or incomplete information.
Many of the problems at the Adult Parole Board stem from its understaffing and out-of-date IT system, according to the Legislative Budget Assistant audit released Friday and board staff. But the auditors also found that the board had resisted taking certain actions that could have improved its work, such as using standardized criteria — rather than board members’ individual discretion — to make parole decisions.
“We found the Board did not always have complete information necessary to consider each criteria ... required by its rules, and could not make a determination of the reasonable probability the inmate would not violate the law while on parole,” the auditors wrote.
“Board members utilized their discretion and personal preference to prioritize consideration of certain criteria or did not consider certain criteria at all,” they added.
The board agreed with most of the auditors’ findings, but chairman Donna Sytek pushed back on some of the critique of her agency and said the board could not fix the issues on its own.
“The board is doing the best it can with what it has,” she said during a legislative hearing on the audit. “If you want us to do all of this, we’re going to need more staff.”
The LBA began its audit last May, the same month that 51-year-old Brian Chevalier was charged with strangling his ex-fiancee to death. The board had granted Chevalier parole six months earlier, halfway through a 30-year maximum sentence, over the objections of a previous victim.
Audio recordings of Chevalier’s hearing showed that the board did not discuss the details of his previous crime — he was accused of raping and torturing an ex-girlfriend, but only convicted of kidnapping her — or the fact that he had committed that crime while on parole.
The LBA audit found that it wasn’t rare for the board to make decisions without understanding the full circumstances of inmates’ crimes or fully reviewing their disciplinary history.
Auditors also reviewed 41 parole hearings that occurred during fiscal years 2017 and 2018 and found 18 cases in which the board granted parole to an inmate who hadn’t undergone a recent recidivism assessment.
And there were 14 cases in which information the board used to grant parole was inaccurate, including multiple instances in which an inmate claimed to have completed mental health or substance abuse classes but had in fact not shown up or was kicked out of the classes.
And in cases in which inmates applied for medical parole, the board’s lack of scrutiny could be even more pronounced.
In one case involving an inmate convicted of sexually assaulting a minor, for example, the board didn’t discuss his criminal or disciplinary history at all during his hearing before granting him parole, according to the audit.
“While the board usually discussed an inmate’s medical condition and treatment needs at length during the hearing, it did not always discuss whether the inmate would be at risk of violating the law while on medical parole,” the auditors wrote.
The inconsistencies continued once offenders were out on parole, according to the audit.
The LBA found that parole officers could be far stricter in some cases than in others.
One sex offender, who was required to check in with a parole officer monthly, went a full year without a visit. The parole officer didn’t request a warrant until the parolee was arrested in another state for failing to register as a sex offender.
But in another case, a parole officer requested an arrest warrant after a parolee went 20 days without checking in.
In February 2018, a chief parole and probation officer requested that the board review and update the level of supervision for a parolee. But by the time the audit concluded that October, an assessment still hadn’t been completed and the parolee, who was on the minimum supervision level, had been arrested for domestic violence, criminal threatening, trespassing and driving after license revocation.
In at least one other case, a parolee remained on maximum supervision despite requests that the supervision level be reviewed for a possible downgrade.
Many of the problems at the Adult Parole Board are longstanding.
An audit from 1992 uncovered similar issues with technology and disorganization that were preventing board members from accessing accurate and adequate information. And a private consultant hired in 2012 made a series of recommendations — including that the board use standardized criteria and collect data on case outcomes — that were never implemented.
Sytek and Department of Corrections Commissioner Helen Hanks said on Friday that they were already in the process of implementing the changes they could and that they would request more resources to assist with changing policies and practices.
But Sytek warned that — although she understood the audit’s critiques — the board would continue struggling without more staff.
“I compare our situation to having to cook Thanksgiving dinner every week” with more guests arriving each time, she said. “We’re trying like heck to peel potatoes, but (the auditors) want us to write down the recipes.”