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About Life Sentence Hearings

Inmates sentenced to serve life in prison with parole eligibility become eligible for parole after serving 15 years of their sentence in most cases.

The Life Sentence Unit (LSU) processes all life sentence hearings. This involves tracking initial parole eligibility and subsequent review hearing eligibility, and preparing all eligible inmates sentenced to life in prison for parole hearings. The LSU gathers collateral materials on inmates, interviews inmates to complete a risk/needs assessment, and completes in-depth summaries to provide detailed case material on inmates to the Board in preparation for hearings. The unit also coordinates with legal representatives for inmates.

What to know

There are two types of parole hearings for life sentenced inmates, initial and review. Inmates sentenced to serve life in prison with parole eligibility become eligible for parole after serving 15 years of the life sentence or a minimum term, after which, the initial hearing takes place. If the Parole Board denies parole after the initial hearing, the inmate is provided with a subsequent review hearing at five years, or earlier, at the discretion of the Parole Board. Both the initial and review hearings take place before all seven members of the Parole Board at the Parole Board’s central office, and as required by law, are open to the public and recorded. During the hearing, testimony can be given from those in favor as well as from those in opposition to parole being granted. As these hearings are public, Record Of Decisions (RODs) on life sentence hearings are made available on the Parole Board’s website. 

In an initial hearing, the LSU will create a summary report to present to the Board. This can include:

  • An official account of the crime(s)
  • The inmate's account of the crime(s)
  • Criminal history
  • Medical issues
  • Mental health issues
  • Substance abuse issues
  • History of institutional adjustment
  • History of institutional programming
  • Plans for parole
  • Hearing testimony in support
  • Hearing testimony in opposition

In preparation and to allow testimony, the Parole Board is required to notify the:

  • Office of the Attorney General
  • Office of the District Attorney in which the crime(s) were committed
  • Police Chief in the city or town in which the crimes(s) were committed
  • The victim(s) and their family members that were impacted

For decisions, the Board may:

  • Conduct the hearing unless the inmate waives their right to a full Board
  • Only render a decision after members have met in executive session and issue a record of decision
  • Allow absent members to review the hearing recording to vote

How a decision is made

During a life sentence parole hearing, the Board considers the inmate's:

  • Period of incarceration has been long enough and efficient in rehabilitation
  • Other convictions
  • Other criminal conduct
  • Incarceration compared to those in similar circumstances
  • Rehabilitation, which can include
    • Sense of remorse and understanding of harm caused by crime
    • Recognition of issues that may have caused crime
    • Conduct while incarcerated and participation in institutional programs
    • Demonstration of rehabilitated behavior
    • Reaction and response to previous denial of parole
  • Degree of support from family and friends
  • Likelihood of employment, with exception to elderly or disabled inmates
  • Specific plans for immediate and long-term housing
  • Plan for reentry
  • Willingness to observing general and specific conditions of parole

Questions and Answers

When is the offender eligible for parole?

An individual who receives a second-degree life sentence is eligible for a parole hearing after serving a mandatory minimum of fifteen years in prison.

Is the offender automatically granted parole when he or she is eligible for parole?

No. Parole eligibility only allows the offender the opportunity for a parole hearing that may or may not result in a positive Parole Board vote and a parole release. At the hearing, the Parole Board considers whether the offender should be released from imprisonment to complete the remainder of his/her sentence in the community or elsewhere. If parole is granted, the Parole Board will impose specific rules and conditions of behavior that the offender must abide by upon release. 

What procedures does the Parole Board follow for these parole release hearings?

The offender is scheduled for a parole hearing before the full membership of the Parole Board no earlier than 60 days before the parole eligibility date.  Please note the following:

  1. Second-degree life sentence parole hearings are open to the public.
  1. The Parole Board is required to notify the Attorney General, the District Attorney in whose jurisdiction the sentence was imposed, the Chief of Police in whose jurisdiction the crime was committed, and the victim(s) or surviving family member(s).
  2. The Parole Board has the right to conduct security searches of all persons and their belongings. This search includes a body sweep with a handheld metal detector and inspection of belongings.
  3. For security reasons, the Parole Board has the right to impose a limit on the number of people attending the parole hearing.
  1. Parole release is granted by a majority vote of the Parole Board.            

What happens if the offender is denied parole release?

When the Parole Board votes to deny parole release, the members also vote when to conduct the next hearing. The Parole Board will set the review hearing, for example, for one, two, three, four or five years.  By statute, a hearing must be scheduled at least every five years. A hearing may be conducted sooner upon a majority vote of the Board. The notification procedures for subsequent review hearings is the same as above.

Are victims or their surviving family members allowed to testify at the hearing?

Yes. The Parole Board welcomes testimony from victims, surviving family members, and others. The Parole Board will also accept written, audio taped or videotaped input. All information presented to the Parole Board will be taken into consideration. 

Is there anyone that victims or surviving family members should contact for more assistance?

Yes. For information, support, and referrals, please contact the Victim Services Unit at 508-650-4543. A victim advocate will be available to assist victims and surviving family members.