The appellant-inmate has been imprisoned for 50 years for a crime he committed at age 17. The jury recommended mercy, and there appears to be no dispute that appellant has been an exemplary inmate and demonstrated remorse, rehabilitation and a low risk for recidivism. While it seems that the review conducted by the Parole Board was perfunctory, since the Board’s notice of rejection says it followed the statutory and Form 1212 criteria, we must reluctantly affirm the Board’s denial of petitioner’s application for parole.
In 1973, while under the influence of LSD, alcohol and a lack of sleep, the 17-year-old appellant stabbed his neighbor to death. Defense counsel advised him that a guilty plea would allow him a chance for parole in 10 years and almost certain parole within 20 years.
Appellant pled guilty, has been an exemplary inmate, and has a plan for housing and employment upon his release. Nevertheless, the Board denied parole based on the facts of the 1973 offense.
Appellant argues the “legal sea change” applicable to juvenile sentencing during the past decade or so requires the Board to adopt procedures that will allow juvenile offenders to have their youth and immaturity considered in parole decisions.
However, this is a routine denial and the Administrative Law Court correctly affirmed the Board. We recognize there is tension between the principle that inmates are entitled to a meaningful parole review and what appears to be serial denials of parole based solely on factors that do not change and that have no relation to an inmate’s rehabilitation. Even so, the court system’s role does not include looking behind the Board’s statement that it has considered all of the factors and made its decision.
As noted by the Board, despite appellant’s claim that “the Board has denied his request for parole based on the facts and circumstances of the offense[,] which [are] fixed in the past and cannot be changed[,]”appellant has not been permanently denied parole and just because he hasn’t received parole yet doesn’t mean he never will.
The Board asserts that, as long as its notice of rejection states it followed the statutory and Form 1212 criteria, its order of denial is valid. Based on the law currently existing in South Carolina, we must agree.
However, we are concerned regarding the perfunctory manner in which appellant’s request for parole was denied. Although appellant and other juveniles similarly situated are technically eligible for parole, the continuing denial of parole based on the same factors, all unchangeable and related to their offenses, gives no guidance to these inmates about what can be done to improve their chances of parole and is, in essence, equivalent to being ineligible for parole. Under the current system, it appears no passage of time served (here, 47 years) or showing of rehabilitation (here, 18 parole reviews now indicating appellant “has more than demonstrated his rehabilitation”) can change his fate before this Board.
The public policy behind recent decisions, to restore hope to juvenile offenders for some life outside of prison, is thwarted by the Board’s continued reliance on factors existing at the time of the conviction with little or no apparent consideration of subsequent rehabilitation efforts. The prospect of parole, including meaningful parole hearings, incentivizes good conduct while imprisoned and encourages participation in rehabilitative programs, which reduces recidivism rates.
Appellant argues he confessed, he accepted the advice of his attorney to plead guilty, “his attorney virtually guaranteed him that he would be paroled in less than twenty years[,]” and the jury recommended mercy. He has been imprisoned for 50 years for a crime he committed at age 17. And there appears to be no dispute—none—that he has been an exemplary inmate and demonstrated remorse, rehabilitation, and a low risk for recidivism.
We reluctantly affirm the ALC’s finding that the Board followed the proper procedure when it denied appellant parole because the Board’s order of denial stated the Board had considered “the factors outlined in [§] 24-21-640” and “the factors published in Department Form 1212.” It may well be good policy for the Legislature to review and/or revise the parole system to assure the factors of youth are a part of considering parole in these cases rather than permitting the seemingly perfunctory review now standardly given, but that is the Legislature’s decision, not ours.
Buchanan v. South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole & Pardon Services (Lawyers Weekly No. 011-068-23, 14 pp.) (Paula Thomas, J.) Appealed from the Administrative Law Court (Ralph King Anderson, ALJ) Hannah Lyon Freedman and John Blume for appellant; Matthew Buchanan for respondent. South Carolina Court of Appeals