Parole Chances Improve Under Schwarzenegger

Gov. Schwarzenegger is to be commended for the change in policy his adminstration has made in the granting of parole--an area in which Gray Davis' record was simply abysmal.

Convicted in 1991 of a murder he insists he didn't commit, the former real estate agent maintained his innocence despite offers of a plea deal and urgings to express remorse. Then in 2002, relatives told the state parole board they'd heard Riojas' estranged father, a drug dealer and smuggler, confess to the killing shortly before his own death. The board, without any objection from the prosecutors who sent Riojas to prison, granted him parole.

Their recommendation then was sent to Gov. Gray Davis who, having publicly vowed to keep convicted murderers in prison for life, rejected it. But a year later, after an unexpected change in state leadership, Riojas is free, one of the 31 convicted murderers and kidnappers paroled by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in his first seven months in office. That's nearly four times the eight life-term inmates who were granted parole during Davis' 4 1/2 years as governor.

Score one for Gov. Arnold.

Schwarzenegger's legal secretary, Peter Siggins, credits the change to a difference in philosophy. "He is a governor who believes people can reform and be reformed."

Now we want to see the Governor go a little further and not reverse as many favorable parole board recommendations as he has to date--he's nowhere near as bad as Gray Davis was, but we think he can do better than this:

Davis rejected release for 286 life-term inmates who received parole recommendations from the state Board of Prison Terms. Of the 89 recommendations sent to Schwarzenegger so far, he has reversed 55 and sent three back for further review.

Donald Specter of the Prison Law Office, a nonprofit firm protecting the rights of prisoners, says Schwarzenegger is giving more hope to inmates but still is not going far enough. "He's still reversing more than 50 percent of cases that the board is granting parole on. I don't think that's appropriate," he said.

Paroled inmate Riojas expressed the inmates' point of view:

Riojas, who finished 11 vocational programs during his incarceration, said the new administration is helping encourage inmates to truly turn their lives around. Under Davis, he said, there was no reason to hope. "I've seen a lot of inmates giving up," Riojas said. "they would go ahead and fight and start using drugs or alcohol ... because they said 'Hey, I'm never getting out because no matter what I do these guys are not letting me out.'"

"You would not believe the tension that the Davis years created," he said. "If our state doesn't do this, rehabilitate our people who are incarcerated, I believe that the prisons are ready to blow up."

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