A recent media advisory from UnCommon Law reads, “The petition demonstrates that California’s parole process is broken.” It stated further that the lawyers the State appoint to represent people serving life sentences “are poorly paid, inadequately supervised, and have less than half the parole grant rate of privately retained counsel.”
The case, In Re Darryl Poole, argues that a lower court erred when it accepted the Board’s promises to address deficiencies alleged regarding state-appointed parole attorneys who represent prisoners serving life.
“Data now shows that the changes have failed to improve the quality of attorney representation,” UnCommon Law wrote. “Roughly $12 million in new funding for the BPH since 2020 to implement changes has yielded no results.”
According to UnCommon Law, “the vast majority of parole applicants in the state are still receiving inadequate le-gal representation …” This, it added, has a direct impact on their chance for freedom.
The right to counsel in parole board hearings is codified in the state Penal Code. The BPH holds thousands of hearings each year. “Nearly 90% of those hearings are for people who cannot afford to hire their own attorney,” UnCommon law reported. The appointment of parole board attorneys is managed by the BPH.
“Years ago, BPH’s own task force determined that this arrangement created a conflict of interest,” UnCommon Law’s press release stated. “More recently, the Board’s Executive Officer testified that ‘it would be inappropriate for the Board to give training to inmate counsel on how to best represent their client when they come before us.’” However, the BPH continues to administer the process.
Records show that from January 2018 to January 2021, there were 18,139 parole hearings scheduled. Of that number, 16,076 had state-appointed attorneys. Another 2,063 had private attorneys.
“The parole grant rate for state-appointed attorneys is less than half the rate for private attorneys,” UnCommon Law reported, adding “people who are denied parole with state-appointed attorneys were ordered to wait longer for another hearing than those with private attorneys.”
It was also reported that the outcome of parole board hearings was no better after the BPH made additional training available and increased the fee paid to attorneys, from $400 to $750 per hearing.
“In fact, the overall parole grant rate is lower now than it was before those changes, UnCommon Law stated. “On average, only 16% of scheduled hearings result in parole grants, and the grant rate has exceeded 20% only once in a 40-year span.”
UnCommon Law gathered information through California’s Public Records Act and surveyed hundreds of prisoners who appeared before the Board between January 2020 and April 2021. The organization’s critical analysis of parole hearing outcomes did not make a sweeping indictment of the BPH attorneys.
“Many state-appointed attorneys go above and beyond in order to better serve their clients,” said Keith Wattley, Executive Director of UnCommon Law.
“Unfortunately, we have a fundamentally flawed process — rife with inequity, particularly along lines of race and wealth — that prevents parole candidates and their attorneys from being successful. This is a problem because the law says most parole hearings should result in people being released, but this system simply isn’t built for that. We need a new one.”