Analysis: Mississippi lawmakers could set the path for the parole board
Mississippi lawmakers will decide next year to keep the state parole board as a separate entity or to transfer the board’s functions to the Department of Corrections.
Some state agencies are reviewed every few years. The law authorizing the existence of the Parole Board expires on July 1, 2022.
A new report from PEER – the Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Appraisal and Expenditure Review – examines the operations of the council, which has five members appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate.
PEER recommended that the board improve the timeliness of some parole hearings. Council Chairman Steven Pickett responded that there are sometimes delays in receiving information about how long inmates have spent in county jails, which affects calculations on when they might become eligible for parole.
PEER found that although the board members were full-time state employees, some had uneven attendance, but all filled out timecards indicating they had worked 40 hours per week. During the week of October 24-30, PEER staff observed eight board hearings that were conducted by teleconference due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Membership attendance at the hearings varied, with one member missing five of the eight hearings, while other members missed three, two, and one hearing during the week,” PEER wrote. “In addition, the member who missed five of the hearings was significantly late to attend two more hearings held during the week.”
The report states that this week’s attendance may have been an anomaly, but “PEER staff also observed that board members were away from the office and the office was closed during the normal working day while carrying out work. in the field for this project. “
Pickett wrote in response that the council held 178 hearings during the week of October 24-30.
“The PEER Report fails to mention that most hearing days extend until lunch and that on many days members are in the office until 6:30 p.m.,” Pickett wrote. “Members of the Parole Board are not paid overtime. “
PEER also found that two parole board members were unduly paid for travel expenses between their home and the board’s office during the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2020.
The board responded that for decades, its members who live more than 60 miles from Jackson have been reimbursed for mileage, hotel stays, and food at rates set by the Department of Finance and State Administration.
“No board member has… stolen money,” Pickett wrote.
Public bodies such as city councils and county supervisory boards are required to keep minutes of their meetings – official records that show actions taken. PEER found that parole board members in 2009 stopped taking minutes and instead started keeping “daily action sheets” that contain “the reasons parole is granted; grounds for refusal of parole; the offender’s residency plan; Board votes; special instructions to offenders; and monitoring conditions.
Parole hearings are closed to the public, under board rules. PEER wrote that the parole board members’ action cards “contain confidential information that cannot be disclosed publicly.” The sheets could constitute an adequate record for administrative purposes, they do not meet the legal requirement for the parole board to keep minutes that could be examined by the public, PEER found.
“Without an official record, the Board risks potential challenges to its actions regarding offender release decisions,” PEER wrote.
Pickett responded that the board maintains proper records.
“Anyone can contact our office and receive information within 30 seconds regarding the eligibility date and the Board’s decision to release or deny parole. … The only request for a review of the ‘minutes’ in the past nine years has come from an elderly man who visited our office looking for information on his father’s murder in the 1950s, “Pickett wrote. .