First, full disclosure. I’m not an attorney. Don’t even play one on TV. But I do know a thing or two (or 10 or 20) about parole hearings. And CRAs—Comprehensive Risk Assessments, known to many inside as ‘psych evals.’
While I could go into great and probably boring detail about how CRAs came to be, the fight in 2010-11 against them and how they have morphed, for the better, actually, since then—I could get deep into those weeds, but I won’t. Today.
What I do want to provide is some basic information, especially because of late we’re getting many requests for help in finding psychologists to provide an ‘alternative’ to the CRAs done by the board for parole hearings. Again, I’m not an attorney, and if your attorney suggests you hire a psych for any reason, I wouldn’t argue with them. And hopefully they will have a specific clinician in mind.
But if you’re looking for a psych to ‘evaluate’ your LO in the hope that a ‘good’ evaluation will outweigh the one done by the BPH psychs, to be blunt, forget it. Save your money (psychs are expensive) for a good, private hire attorney, who will spend time helping your LO get ready for the hearing and will understand both the use of the CRA in a parole hearing and how to address any issues it raises.
CDCR doesn’t simply allow psychs to come on grounds, or these days, on video, to talk to prisoners and create a report. The only outside visits CDCR must allow are to attorneys—so if you want anyone to ‘visit’ a prisoner, in person or virtually, it must be done under the sponsorship of an attorney, as part of the attorney/client process. I do some private consulting work with clients outside of LSA, as LiferCoach. And my in-person or on-camera/phone work with clients is done the same way—under the sponsorship of an attorney, as part of the attorney/client relationship.
So, step by step, you have to find a psych who is willing to provide the evaluation, then hire an attorney (not an appointed attorney) who will take your LO on as a client, and who will be comfortable enough with the chosen psych to put their reputation and access on the line and arrange a consultation between that inmate and that psych, who, when things open up again, will no doubt want to visit in person. Are you starting to see the $$ mount up? You should. The attorney will need a retainer, the psych will have to be paid and, if traveling, those expenses can also add up.
In the best of cases, you get those hoops navigated and your clinician offers up a ‘report’ or ‘evaluation’ that, as you hoped, is more favorable than the one from the FAD. And regardless of any other report offered up, the FAD WILL create a CRA.
What happens to that ‘good’ report? Basically, nothing. Typically, the parole panel will read it, perhaps reference it, aaannnnd then—nothing. Sometimes they’ll comment that a paid psych would be expected to be positive about their client, sometimes they’ll just ignore the report entirely. But certainly, they will not compare it, point by point, with the official CRA, won’t defer to the private report on any issue of contention between the two documents. The official psych eval of record is that CRA, created by the FAD; that is the report they rely on (and are comfortable with), THE END.
So wherever this interest/obsession on hiring a private psych is coming from, the assumption that it’s easy to get a clinician to interview a potential parolee, and that the report will be useful, sorry to burst your bubble. None of that is true.
If your attorney suggests your LO could benefit from counseling or therapy and offers to arrange it, great. And if that clinician wants to write a report on the progress of your LO in those sessions, greater. But create a risk assessment? For the commissioners, that’s the equivalent of ‘alternative facts.’ And about as useful.
Perhaps in another blog we’ll take on what the CRAs are, why they’re done and the process. But for now, encourage your LO to go to and be positive in the CRA interview. If you’re reading this as an inmate, be open, honest and cooperative at your CRA interview, take any parole/relapse prevention plans, even if not complete, to the interview and don’t view the clinician as an adversary. That attitude shows.
Please continue to reach out to us for help and clarification on the parole process—it is complex, not even all inmates understand it, but it will be easier on both you and your LO if you both know what’s possible and what isn’t.