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The Parole Conundrum

by Boston Woodard (posted by Mike Rhodes) (c/o MikeRhodes [at]
Boston Woodard is a prisoner/journalist serving his sentence in Solano State Prison. This is his latest article that reaches out, from inside the prison walls, to let you know what is going on there.
The Parole Conundrum
Vindictive Application of the Law
By Boston Woodard

In 1977, Senate Bill 42 changed all California prison commitments from the Indeterminate Sentencing Law (ISL) to the Determinate Sentencing Law (DSL). Since then, only those prisoners with life sentences are required to be judged in front of the “parole board commissioners” to see whether they have fulfilled the requirements for a parole according to the law.

Life sentence commitments are supposed to be governed and regulated according to the California Penal Code Statues and Parole Regulations; Title 15, Division 2, Board of Prison Terms (BPT), 2000 et seq.

The Title 15 includes a matrix chart, which clearly interprets the amount of time that lifers are to serve, so says the law. There are two major factors on the matrix chart that determine the specific amount of time a lifer should have to serve for his or her particular crime.

First, the circumstances of the case are considered; whether or not severe trauma or torture was inflicted on the victim and/or the type of weapon used. The second factor relates to the victim. Various amounts of time are ordered on the matrix chart, depending on the relationship between the victim and the accused.

If the accused was in a relationship that contributed to the motivation for the act resulting in death--such as a spouse, family member or friend--he or she will serve less time than a commitment whose crime involved no prior relationship with the victim, this, according to California state law governing paroles.

According to Larry Burgoon, a 49 year old Orange County man serving a life sentence for a second degree murder he committed in 1989, “It’s a sad system when the prisoners are conforming to all the rules, policies, and laws, and those entrusted to uphold the law such as the parole commissioners, are not.”

Many of these lifers are not the out-of-control young men and women who committed these crimes so many years ago. Many have close family ties and support systems that will help them to lead productive life-styles for the remainder of their lives when released from prison.

There are literally thousands of life prisoners throughout the prison system who have spent many years and decades conforming to the rules; working for credit, immersing themselves in education and vocational programs, involving themselves in countless self help groups and other social skil1s programs all at the behest of the BPT, in a sincere attempt to earn and qualify for a parole.

Kenneth Pogues has served more than twenty-five years for a second degree murder he committed in Los Angeles. Pogues contests that, “It seems that those of us [lifers] who are best prepared to return to society are the very ones that the politicians and prison officials have been maligning for decades.” After they have served the fixed portion of their sentences, they are supposed to have a chance to prove they have been rehabilitated and ready to be released back into society.

In 1991, Governor Pete Wilson substantially reduced parole grants; in fact, for all intents and purposes, his policy virtually eliminated paroles. He began by appointing and re-appointing BPT commissioners know to disfavor paroles and who would stand firm on & “no parole policy.’

Every one of Wilson’s appointees were all crime victims and/or family members of crime victims, former law enforcement personnel, or republican legislators who were defeated in elections and who needed a job that pays more than $100,000 a year plus expenses, with full benefits. The nine-member BPT, appointed by the governor, is supposed to evaluate thousands of prisoners serving sentences of life with the possibility of parole; most of these prisoners have been convicted of murder, arson, or kidnaping. A very small group of more heinous crimes, is ineligible for parole.

When asked about California’s parole system, Edward “Spud” Williams from Richmond stated, “The parole system has not worked according to the law for many years. The system needs to be revamped and overhauled in order for it to function lawfully.” Williams has been serving a sentence for a second degree murder he committed 26 years ago. “It’s frustrating at times to know that our honest attempts to conform and do the right thing is simply ignored by the BPT commissioners,” said Williams.

Albert N. Leddy, who for twenty-five years was deputy assistant and district attorney for Kern County, and for nine years was a member/commissioner and chairman of the California State Board of Prison Terms, was by no means an advocate for prisoner’s rights. Nonetheless, Leddy was absolutely apposed to Governor Wilson’s (and later Coy. Gray Davis’s) expensive campaign to eliminate life prisoner’s rights to a fair hearing before the BPT. For five years as governor, Gray Davis perpetuated Wilson’s illegal no— parole policy before being recalled from office by California voters.

According to a May 10, 2000 notarized declaration by Leddy, “Governor Wilson’s BPT appointees were mostly from his home area of San Diego. Most were not qualified by training or experience for position of BPT commissioner, and they did not fulfill the statutory cross-section requirements of racial, sexual, economic, or geographical proportion.”

Mr. Leddy further swore under oath that, “On one occasion Joe Sandavol, former secretary of Y.A.C.A [Youth and Adult Correctional Agency], a cabinet level appointment, personally warned the commissioners to be careful about granting paroles. Chairman John Gillis told two commissioners to stop giving parole dates.’

At one point Leddy became concerned enough about the no parole policy that he wrote a nine page brief stating that the BPT was not complying with the laws. Leddy gave a copy to each board member, pointing out that they could be sued. He asked that the brief be a topic on the board’s agenda. Ted Rich, as executive officer said, “That’s not going to be on the agenda.”

Rick Cypher from American Canyon serving a conviction for second degree murder since 1984 expressed, “Being denied a parole date because the BPT commissioner’s final pronouncement declaring parole suitability is based on the crime is wrong. This has severely eroded my faith in the parole system.”

Several years ago, a State Senate panel eliminated the state parole board’s budget for that fiscal year - a rare tactical move that reflected Some lawmakers deep frustration with how California treats prisoners who are eligible for release. The panel erased millions in funding on the grounds that it has done little to fix the problems exposed by the legislature and others.

Such a no-parole policy means that no murder offender can get a fair hearing as the law requires. Burgoon, Pogues, Williams and Cypher all agree that if you can deny a prisoner “suitability” for parole solely on the basis of the crime, you can deny him or her forever. The crime wont change. The parole law is based on the idea that prisoners can change, and no longer be a danger to public safety. It is well established that a murder offender rarely repeats a crime, once released.

In fact, a statistic not frequently released to the public by state government or the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is the recidivism rate for life prisoners alter release; less than one half of one percent. The recidivism numbers usually proffered to the public are the (much higher) numbers for crackheads and an assortment of petty thieves who are constantly in and out of prison. State government, prison officials, and the California Correctional Peace Officer’s Association (CCPOA) do not tell the public the truth regarding lifers and the Board of Prison Terms.

Denials for paroles average two years and in some cases denials can be as long as four years plus before a lifer can appear before the panel again. The BPT commissioners often will raise a lifer’s succession of minimum one year denials to a higher number. Because the lifer is steadfastly conforming to all the rules and there is nothing to base a denial on, board members will resort back to the crime itself in an attempt to justify their decision.

Prior to the November 2006 mid-term elections, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, by contrast, released nearly 100 lifers on parole since taking office. His decision to break with his predecessors represents a courageous political act.

This has provoked scorn from the guard’s union to the point that the CCPOA shelled out millions in TV advertisements bemoaning Schwarzenegger’s policies. The CCPOA has sat around for decades witnessing the deterioration of medical, mental health and rehabilitation programs behind these walls. Paroling lifers has never been conducive with the unions vested interest to keep prisons crowded. They snear and snicker out of public view as their coffer over-flows with millions in pay raises and overtime. Then along comes Arnold who seems to be not for sale thus far.

There are many life prisoners who have no criminal record prior to their present commitment. Many were hard-working tax paying citizens just like so many other citizens. For one brief moment in their lives they lost control and took the life of another human being.

Many of these lifers have deep remorse for their crime and realize the pain and emotions suffered by the victims family as well as their own families and friends. The most honest and sincere commitment a life prisoner can make is to continue to program and do what is necessary to become a better person and to fully understand what lead them to prison. But when the time
comes when a man or woman serving a life sentence has fulfilled all expectations and requirements to be paroled, according to the law, they should be released.


Boston Woodard is a prisoner/journalist serving his sentence in Solano State Prison and is not a life prisoner. Woodard has written for the San Quentin News, the Soledad Star and edited The Communicator.

Boston Woodard, B-88207
CSP—Solano, 13-F-8-L
P.O. Box 4000
Vacaville CA. 95696-4000
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