Parole Hearings and Victims' Rights: Implementation, Ambiguity, and Reform

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Despite the increasing recognition of victims' rights, and despite the large role parole hearings play in the criminal justice system, discussion of the intersection between these two issues has been curiously sparse. Across the United States, victim participation in parole hearings is currently expanding, yet little is known about how this participation operates on the ground. This Article uses a Calfornia victims' rights initiative called "Marsy's Law" to think critically about the role that crime victims and their loved ones should play in parole hearings. I use in-depth interviews with California releasing authorities to describe the implementation of Marsy's Law and its effects on parole hearings for lifer inmates. While this Article details victims' actual participation in the parole process, it is even more usefully read as an article about how we think about victims' participation in parole. To this end, "victims' rights" are relevant both as individual legal entitlements and as broader political objectives. Toward the end of this Article, I identify several areas of possible policy reform with national implications. The data and analysis reveal an urgent need to identify the true purposes of victim testimony and align these purposes with parole hearing procedures. I argue that hearings could be better tailored to meet the most pressing needs of releasing authorities, offenders, and victims themselves.

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