A few weeks ago, the routine mandatory parole hearing for an inmate I’ll call “Mr. O” took place for the 17th or 18th time and the result remained the same: denied. That means that Mr. O, already 65 years old, will not come before the Florida Parole Commission again until he is 70 and served 50 years in the state penitentiary.
Mr. O was not sentenced for murder or even maiming anyone. Yet, he is serving more time than Steve Ault, who raped and murdered two pre-teenaged black sisters; Ottis Toole, who killed at least six people, including little Adam Walsh; and John Gotti of the Gambino crime family.
Mr. O was accused of rape, a charge he has steadfastly denied these 45 years, asserting that the alleged victim was his girlfriend who used the allegation as a means of punishing him. Nevertheless, he was sentenced to two 100-year terms – to run consecutively, having the effect of a 200-year sentence.
Mr. O, abandoned when he was 10 years old, was always in and out of trouble, trying to survive on his own. However, his acts of juvenile
delinquency became part of his criminal record – a record that would otherwise be very sparse indeed, given that he has been locked up since he was 20 years old. Yet, the commission, in justifying this latest parole denial, used Mr. O’s youthful offender record as a factor – actually exaggerating even that record.
The commission stated that it was swayed by “the inmate’s overall extensive criminal history and his escalating criminal conduct,” when, in fact, Mr. O’s criminal record
indicates that he had had only one prior incarceration, when he spent 20 days in jail on a charge of vagrancy.
That is not the most blatant disregard by the commission of the official record. The commission gave as its number one reason: “Unsatisfactory institutional conduct as evidenced by the receipt of a processed disciplinary report dated 3/5/2010 for Frivolous Grievance, where you received (60) days disciplinary
confinement and (360) days loss of gain time.”
The facts, however, are – and the official record indicates – that Mr. O. was illegally punished by a lower court on a charge of filing a frivolous grievance. However, the Appellate Court ruled that the filing was not frivolous but, by then, Mr. O had already spent 60 days in solitary confinement and 360 days was deducted from his gain time. There has been no action to rectify that mistake by the
criminal justice system and the commission, although informed about it, seized it as one of the most compelling reasons for denying parole.
The commission mentioned the “extent of physical and psychological trauma to the victim due to the criminal offense” but there is no official record of any such trauma. In fact, the alleged victim refused to participate in the sentencing of Mr. O and has never appeared before the commission to protest against his parole. Yet, even though Mr. O has been incarcerated for 45 years, the commission accuses him of “escalating or continuing persistent pattern of criminal conduct.”
The commission summarizes its denial by insisting that “any release may cause unreasonable risk to others,” thereby suggesting that the 65-year-old Mr. O is a likely candidate to become a rapist.
Although a panel of forensic psychiatrists/psychologists was retained in 1999 to determine whether Mr. O was a sex offender, its findings were that he did not meet the criteria for such a classification.
This current Parole Commission has decided to order another such examination even though Mr. O’ s situation now is as it was in 1999.
The commission seems to hope that a different panel might reach a different conclusion. Indeed, there is only a pretext of a “hearing. The commission quietly listens to testimony but is not swayed by it. It seems to use its set of bogus reasons to grant parole annually to less than 1 percent of the more than 5,000 parole-eligible inmates.
*Gilbert L. Raiford is a retired social worker who has had a long career in teaching and working for the U.S. Department of State. He may be reached at email@example.com