Being granted parole on the first parole eligibility date is not automatic. As a practical matter, the burden is on the inmate to demonstrate insight, remorse, that he/she will not reoffend, will comply with parole conditions, and will succeed on parole. Do not assume that the records the Parole Board Members have access will be complete, accurate, or fairly represent the factors that will support parole. Preparation of a complete record and preparing the inmate for the appearance before the Board Panel is critical.
First Phase: Submit a Compelling Parole Plan
It is important to create a record that will give parole board members confidence that, if released, the inmate will not reoffend and will comply with all conditions of parole. The record should include confirmation from responsible members of the community that the inmate has appropriate and stable housing, employment, and a support network to ensure success on parole. The parole plan should be focus on addressing the crime and the specific rehabilitative issues presented by the inmate. The record should be submitted well before the inmate meets with the Initial Hearing Officer.
Assuming that a proper parole plan has been submitted, the next phase is appearing before an Initial Hearing Officer and a Two Member Board Panel, where the Board Members will challenge, test, and size up the sincerity, honesty, insight, remorse of the inmate, and whether the Board should risk releasing the inmate.
Second Phase: Prepare for the Appearance Before the Initial Hearing Officer and Two Member Board Panel
Understand that the Board Members are making an assessment as to whether the inmate will reoffend and will comply with conditions imposed by the Parole Board. An inmate must demonstrate insight into the crime, empathy for the victim(s), acceptance of responsibility, remorse for injury that was caused, an understanding as to what the inmate needs to do to be successful on parole. The inmate must convey a sincere willingness to accept any recommendation by the Board, including a halfway house and counseling.
The inmate’s focus at the hearing should be on understanding how the crime could have occurred and the damage the crime has done to others. The inmate should not focus on themselves or the damage to their family. It is okay for an inmate to be emotional at the hearing, if the emotion is genuine. The crime should be discussed honestly with no excuses. If there is an explanation as to how and why the crime occurred that may be discussed, but not as an excuse or justification – any “explanation” as to how and why the crime occurred should be addressed as insight into one’s own issues and failings. If there is a specific victim, the inmate should be respectful, demonstrate empathy, insight, and use the victim’s name. Any discussion of the facts of the crime should not be detached or mechanical.
The inmate should try to integrate and discuss what he learned in various rehabilitative programs to demonstrate self-reflection and insight into how and why the crime occurred. In many crimes, the damage is not limited to the victim but has a serious impact to members of the victim’s family. Sincere empathy to those injured by the inmate’s actions should be conveyed.
The Board Members will likely ask tough questions and will go into detail in the facts of the crime as reflected in the official record. Board Members will likely challenge the inmate, and the Board Members may be confrontational. The Board Members will challenge and test the inmate. It is critical for the inmate to remain calm and polite, but not be completely emotionless. Eye contact, body language, and sincerity is important. An inmate must not respond with anger, impatience, entitlement, or a sense of being a victim, but rather demonstrate sincere heartfelt shame as to the crime, insight into the damage done to others, and the desire to be a better person.
Inmates should never minimize the impact of the crime on others or one’s role in the crime. If substance or mental health issues were directly involved, the inmate must express a willingness to complete any program, participate in any counseling, or transition to any halfway house, or any condition that the Board feels is appropriate. An inmate should never use substance abuse as an excuse. An inmate should never try to place blame anywhere but on himself. The inmate must always accept responsibility for past actions and failings and express optimism that if given the opportunity to be released on parole, they will not reoffend and will participate and succeed in any condition imposed by the Parole Board.
The inmate will likely be asked a general question to tell the Board Members what the inmate did and what happened. The Board Members will be comparing what they hear form the inmate against the official record. The inmate must be prepared to explain, without excuses, with honest heartfelt emotion, with empathy, what occurred, why it occurred, and why it will never happen again. The inmate should be prepared to explain why they are worthy to be released, why the Board Members should trust them to be law-abiding, and that they will comply with any special conditions imposed by the Board. The inmate should convey that they recognize that while the transition back into society may present challenges, they are willing to work hard to succeed on parole.
The inmate may discuss the rehabilitative programming taken, not as some proud accomplishment or entitlement for release, but rather as a part of gaining an understanding and insight into oneself and the crime.
An inmate needs to be prepared to address future plans and goals in the context of being a positive member of the community. The inmate must be able to sincerely convey to the Board Members that if they give them a chance, that the Board Members will not be sorry and will not regret giving them a chance at a new life.
Maximize the Chances of Parole By Consulting With Experienced Counsel
To maximize one’s chances of being granted parole, family and friends of an inmate should give serious consideration to retaining experienced counsel to develop an appropriate parole plan and to prepare the inmate for the Panel Hearing, with a focused understanding of the crime and proposed parole plan.
Eric Marcy, Esq. is Of Counsel at Lyons & Associates, P.C., with Offices in Somerville, Morristown, and Freehold. His practice areas include criminal, civil rights, professional licensing, health care, and administrative law.
Mr. Marcy has represented clients in parole planning, administrative appeals from parole denial, appeals to the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, and parole revocation hearings.
Mr. Marcy has been a member of the New Jersey Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers since 1987. He served as a Trustee of the NJ-ACDL from 2001 to 2010.
Mr. Marcy served as an instructor for the Institute of Continuing Legal Education Criminal Practice “Skills and Methods” program for newly admitted attorneys from 2000 to 2009.
Mr. Marcy has been selected for inclusion in New Jersey Super Lawyers® lists 2006-2009, 2017 to the present.
He is also an authorized attorney under the New Jersey State PBA Legal Protection Plan, representing law enforcement officers in administrative, civil, and criminal matters.