• Parole;
  • Parole Boards;
  • Victims;
  • Victim Participation;
  • Punishment

Research Summary:

Past research has indicated that victim participation has had little impact on sentence outcomes. In contrast, the current study examined parole hearings in Alabama to determine if, and how, victim participation is related to parole decision making. Results indicate that victim and offender participation are significantly related to parole hearing outcomes. The findings of the current study indicate that victim influence, not institutional behavior or participation in rehabilitation programs, is a highly predictive factor in the decision to grant or deny parole. The study concludes that victim participation impacts parole release decisions and identifies the relative importance of oral versus written participatory involvement and the point at which participation begins to affect decision making. The study also examines the causal relationships existing among victim participation variables, offender characteristics, and general parole predictors and parole decision making.

Policy Implications:

This study points out the importance of making victims aware of the impact of their presence and participation in parole hearings. The more letters of protest in an offender's file, the more persons protesting at an offender's hearing and the more likely that parole will be denied. The findings of this current study make it clear that victim participation influences the parole board's decisions at the parole release hearing. This study also raises another important issue. To what extent will parole boards allow victim influence to override the concerns for the inmate? Is it fair to further punish an inmate who presents a low risk of recidivism for future criminal behavior because victims show up at hearings to protest the release? Should victim input and participation become the most significant variable or simply one of many variables to be considered in these decisions?