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Board of Pardons and Parole

Who are the members of the Board of Pardons and Parole?

The board is composed of seven citizens appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. The current members are Margaret Bowman, Darryl Dupuis, Sam Lemaich, Mike McKee (chairman), Teresa O’Connor, John Rex and John Ward.

What are member qualifications?

Board members must possess academic training that has qualified them for professional practice in a field such as criminology, education, psychiatry, psychology, law, social work, sociology or guidance and counseling. Related work experience in the areas listed may be substituted for these educational requirements. One member must be an enrolled member of an American Indian tribe. Board members apply for the position.

How often does the board meet?

Hearing panels composed of two or three members conduct hearings. Once a month, a hearing panel conducts hearings at various locations.

Where does the board meet?

Hearing panels conduct hearings at Montana State Prison, Montana Women’s Prison, regional and private prisons, prerelease centers, the revocation and sanction center in Anaconda, Montana State Hospital, Montana Developmental Center, and Montana Mental Health Nursing Care Center.

What is the board’s relationship to the Department of Corrections?

The board is attached to the Department of Corrections for administrative purposes only. The board exercises its quasi-judicial, policymaking functions independently of the department and without approval or control of the department. The board hires its own personnel. The board reviews offenders based on community safety without being unduly influenced by the pressures of corrections system management.

What is parole?

Parole is the privilege of release of an inmate into the community prior to the completion of the inmate’s sentence, subject to the orders of the board and the supervision of the Department of Corrections.

What is a pardon?

A pardon is a declaration of record that an individual is to be relieved of all legal consequences of a prior conviction.

How much of a sentence must an offender serve before being eligible for parole?

Because of statutory changes over time, parole eligibility varies according to when an offender committed the crime. For crimes committed after Jan. 30, 1997, an offender becomes eligible after serving a fourth of the full term of a time sentence and 30 years of a life sentence. That is the case with most inmates in prison today.

Does being eligible for parole mean an offender is entitled to be paroled?

An offender may have met the statutory requirements for parole eligibility, but no offender has a right to parole. A parole may only be granted in the best interest of society and when the board feels that a person is willing and able to be a law-abiding citizen.

Does every inmate become eligible for parole

Yes, unless a judge specifically orders that an inmate is not eligible for parole.

What is the greatest misconception about the board and its work?

The most common misconception is that the board doesn’t release anyone. On average, the board grants parole to half of the offenders who have parole hearings or who are administratively reviewed

How does the board prepare for parole hearings?

The board receives and reviews reports from the facility where an offender is housed, board staff reports, psychological evaluations, sex offender reports, and written statements in support or opposition to parole.

What factors do the board take into consideration when deciding whether to parole an inmate?

The primary objective of the board is to carefully review each offender and grant parole when it finds there is a reasonable probability the offender can be released without detriment to himself or herself and the community. When making decisions, the board considers institutional adjustment, completion of recommended treatment and programming, criminal history, circumstances of the offense, input from victims, law enforcement,and the public, and any information relevant to the case,the offender or public safety.

What efforts are needed on the part of an inmate to be paroled?

Clear conduct in prison is expected of all inmates considered for parole. The board also expects an effort to be made to complete recommended treatment and programming. An offender also must have verifiable residence and employment.

What happens if the board decides to parole an inmate?

If the board grants an offender’s request for parole, the process begins with an institutional probation and parole officer or case manager. He or she ensures applications for a community placement and/or parole plan are adequate to enable the offender to re-integrate successfully into society. Once the board staff receives the proposed parole plan, it is sent to the respective probation and parole office to be investigated. The investigation of an inmate’s proposed residence, employment and treatment can take up to 30 days. If the plan is approved, the board staff sets the date for the offender to parole from the facility.

What happens if the board decides not to parole an inmate?

If an offender is denied parole, board may set a date for the offender to re-appear or for an administrative review, or pass the offender to discharge

What are some of the most common reasons for an inmate to be denied parole?

The board typically bases its denials on such factors as the nature or severity of an offense, multiple offenses, criminal history, poor history under community supervision, a pattern of similar offenses, repeat sex offenses, previous escape from custody, and strong objection from criminal justice authorities or the public. The board looks at the offender’s entire record when considering early release on parole.

Does the board want to keep inmates in prison longer than they need to be there?

No. The board’s goals are to protect society by not releasing an inmate shown to be a danger to society and to allow parole when the board concludes an offender can be released without detriment to himself or herself or the community. The board is a part-time, appointed citizen board and members have no personal interest in keeping offenders in prison longer than members determine is necessary to meet its goals and obligations. Discretion in releasing inmates is essential and best placed in an independent, informed, just and careful parole board. All parole decisions are tailored to each offender with the primary objective of ensuring community safety.

Can the board be sued for its decisions?

No. The board has quasi-judicial status that enables it to perform duties similar to a judge. Decisions can be challenged in court if the decision was based on erroneous or inaccurate information or for alleged violations of due process.

Can an inmate review the contents of his or her parole file?

The Montana Constitution and Montana law allow an inmate to review his or her parole file. However, the board may withhold any document in the file that is subject to a personal privacy or safety interest that clearly exceeds the merits of public disclosure. The law permits the board to charge a fee to review and copy records as well as limit the time and place an offender can review a file. Inmate file review requests are scheduled based on parole eligibility date, next scheduled hearing date and staff availability at each facility.

For more information about the Board of Pardons and Parole, contact the board staff at 406-846-1404.