“All other crimes — murders, assaults, rape, all those kinds of things — the sentence you get has a maximum and a minimum, there’s no possibility of parole,” said Keith Acree, spokesperson of the N.C. Department of Public Safety. “You have to serve 100 percent of that minimum.”
This meant that in 2015, six inmates were awarded parole by the end of September.
Parole eligibility was almost entirely eliminated under the Structured Sentencing Act, which was implemented in 1994 and replaced the Fair Sentencing Act, Acree said.
He said the percentage of inmates left in the system who are still parole eligible for crimes other than drunken driving is small because of the length of time since 1994.
“It’s about between 3,000 and 4,000 inmates of a population of about 37,000,” Acree said.
He said the difficulty of obtaining parole is due to the diminishing pool of inmates who were convicted before 1994.
“The people that are left in prison who are parole eligible are (for) very, very egregious crimes — the crime was just so heinous, so serious,” he said. “As that pool of people shrinks every year, it gets harder and harder to find people in there that the commission are comfortable paroling.”
He said under the Fair Sentencing Act, most inmates would serve a fraction of their sentence.
“The whole reason the structured sentencing came about was because there was a movement for states to implement what’s called ‘truth in sentencing’ so that inmates actually served something close or very close to what the court gave,” Acree said.
Paul Wright, executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center, said harsh criminal defense reform nationwide that started in the 1990s restricted parole options.
“Prisoners are serving longer times than ever before, which also goes back to the demise of discretionary parole,” he said.
But Mary Pollard, executive director of N.C. Prisoner Legal Services, said parole is still a concern for those convicted before 1994.
The N.C. parole process contains two steps — a review and an investigation.
Pollard said there are various reasons the parole process in North Carolina is flawed.
“It doesn’t give the inmate the opportunity to really make a case to anybody. The parole commissioners are overworked and under-resourced,” she said. “We don’t think anybody gets a fair shot at making their case and having a fair consideration for parole.”
Pollard said each North Carolina parole case analyst is responsible for approximately 4,338 offenders, and the parole process does not allow inmates to demonstrate their rehabilitation.
“There’s definitely no interaction between the inmate and the parole commissioners who make the decisions,” Pollard said. “It’s difficult to get attention.”
And Wright said politics is heavily involved in the parole process.
“I think it’s certainly a political agenda, and that’s the key thing is that it’s certainly about keeping people locked up and keeping them in prison.”