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being transparent about transparency

There’s lots of chatter recently about ‘transparency’ from the BPH, the intent being to ‘prove’ that the board has some nefarious intent to keep lifers from paroling. Let me be clear here: I’ve been dealing with CDCR/BPH for more than 20 years, back in the ‘bad old days’ when the board was very different than it is today. Yes, things could still improve; yes, we’re all for transparency in any governmental proceeding. But no, the BPH is no longer on a secret mission to find cunning ways to keep lifers from paroling and no, the board isn’t trying to hide behind a cloak of secrecy.

But you don’t have to take my word for it, herewith is recently un-earthed report from our achieves about a meeting LSA requested in 2010 with the then-Director of the BPH, one Martin Hoshino, who represented, believed in, and fostered the ‘old’ atmosphere of the board. Hoshino was very reluctant to meet with LSA, but we were particularly persistent and enlisted the aid of others in pressing for the meeting, to which he finally agreed, so long as he could bring reinforcements with him.

For context, LSA was, in June of 2010, about 6 months old (having been formed in January 2010) and had exactly 3 official members, the two founders and one paroled lifer, but we had already made enough ‘noise’ and asked enough questions to be on Hoshino’s, and the CDCR’s radar, most wondering what those ‘two middle-aged broads are up to.’ Some 14 years later, we’re still doing the same, asking questions and making noise. But the BPH has changed, not just the persons of the commissioners, but in administration, attitude and interaction.

Following each point from the original meeting you’ll find, in italic and red, comments about today’s situation in those areas. It was a good walk down memory lane for me (yes, I was, as always and still, the primary ‘mouth’ at the meeting) and made me appreciate both where we’ve come from and where we still need to go. So take a look back at history with us, starting with our old logo.

Representatives of Life Support Alliance met on June 24, 2010 with Executive Director of the BPH Martin Hoshino. The meeting was at the suggestion of Darby Kernan, Legislative Analyst for CDCR Sec. Matthew Cate and was attended by both Ms. Kernan and George Giurbino, Assistant Director Adult Operations, CDCR, in addition to Mr. Hoshino.

Following is a recap of that meeting.

  • Mr. Hoshino went to great lengths to explain he has little control over the decisions made by the commissioners and suggested instead the responsibility for BPH actions lay more with the Senate Rules Committee, which confirms or rejects appointments. He said he has no part in selecting or vetting the potential appointees. The Governor’s office always at least gives the BPH a ‘heads up’ on potential appointees. • He is uncomfortable with our assessment of rate of lifer recidivism at 1-2% though he did not say our figures were incorrect. He instead twice mentioned he had seen a study out of Washington state indicating a 20% lifer recidivism rate but could not/would not say where that study could be found (we have not yet found it) and said he has not yet mentioned the study as he was unsure of methodology and whether the "recidivism" was through technical violations or new crimes. That issue alone would be vitally important in the usefulness of any study. Since Hoshino left, the BPH not only acknowledges this is factual, but also touts the low lifer recidivism rate as an indication that the parole process works—only releasing those who are no longer dangerous. • He indicated he was unaware of any academic studies showing a low lifer recidivism rate; we have found several and left a copy of one such recent study with him, along with offers to provide information on finding others. See above—Hoshino was undoubtedly aware of these studies, even in 2010 but the policy then was to obfuscate and deny. • He repeatedly touted the BPH's "hugely increased" rate of parole grants since the 2007 Lawrence decision, saying the rate of grant had "quadrupled." Yes, after the CDC lost a lengthy and expensive court battle, the rate has increased from 4% in 2007 to 16% in 2009. Far from the 50% usually ascribed to the meaning of "shall normally set" a parole date written into the law. Update: for the last 5-6 years the grant rate has been around 30%; and while we would like to see that continue to increase, it’s a far cry from the 2009 rate of 9%. And the board is forthcoming in presenting the grant rate figures each year. • He said training of the commissioners was improving but made the unsettling comment that it was "hard to try and train a judge in 6 weeks." Perhaps, but commissioners aren't judges and are not supposed to re-try the committed crime. And as the OIG report reflects commissioner training is nearly non-existent. Today, and since roughly 2012, commissioners and deputy commissioners receive yearly training at least three times a year on subjects from PTSD to YOPH and legal issues. And—many training sessions are open to the public; LSA has attended every publicly held training session over the past 10+ years. • He indicated the Deputy Commissioners were all civil servants and as such bore no political affiliation or loyalty and their selection was transparent. That is an issue we are exploring, however the confidential nature of the personnel process is making this a difficult area to look into. While DCs remain civil servants, several years ago the board required that each Deputy Commissioner be qualified to serve as an Administrative Judge under legal requirements, meaning all DCs are now attorneys, familiar with the law. And they receive the same training on parole relevant subjects as commissioners. • He denied any knowledge of the fiscal costs of contesting or even the number of habeas writs filed by prisoners denied parole dates. Also said he had no knowledge of how many commissioners over the past 2 to 3 years have resigned their positions prior to confirmation hearings. The number of hearings held as a result of habeas filings is now published each year (since 2015) in the Board’s Significant Events report for each year. In 2022, that number was 2 hearings; in 2021, 9 hearings were so ordered. These numbers have always been known to BPH administration, and since 2015 this information is made public yearly. In response to a question about the recently raised possibility of prisoners' family members being qualified as victims under the language of Marsey's Law (have suffered emotional, psychological and/or financial injury as a result of a crime) Hoshino said that was not his interpretation but acknowledged class action suits on this issue are probably in the works. LSA is aware Mr. Hoshino has been deposed on this issue recently. Inclusion of prisoner family members under the victim definition would allow them to appear and speak at parole hearings, something now denied supportive family and friends. While prisoner families are still largely excluded from participation in parole hearings (and we have come to understand why), those who qualify as victims under the definition of Marsy’s Law are included. Additionally, since late 2011 observers from the public, LSA first and foremost among them, have been approved to attend parole hearings as non-participating observers. This is clearly in line with the law, a concept supported by the current BPH administration.

  • He suggested he could do nothing to change the present direction of the board and suggested we look to the legislature for relief. We assured him that is our intent. He was interested in who our supporters are and how large a group we represent and was quite direct in those questions. While we continue to look to the legislature for changes in law, Hoshino was disingenuous in saying he could not provide direction to the board, as the changes implemented by his successor at the BPH has shown; increased training, increased transparency in proceedings, increased outreach to stakeholders and interaction with the board and stakeholders has greatly impacted the attitude and outlook of the commissioners. With regard to our membership, in 2010, not wanting to be too transparent about how small we then were, we responded that LSA was the fastest growing prisoner advocacy group in the state. There were 3 of us. If we had added a 4th member, our membership would have grown by 33% overnight. Two can play the obfuscation game.

  • He agreed to answer questions we might submit in writing. Four questions were emailed to him on June 28, no response was received until a follow up email was sent last week. He responded by saying he had turned the question over to an assistant. The four questions were: 1) how many writs of BPH denials are currently pending in the courts, 2) in the past 2 years how many writs have been adjudicated in favor of the plaintiff (prisoner), 3) over the past 3 years how many commissioners have resigned prior to confirmation and 4) the budget of the BPH, broken out of the CDCR budget. Information all readily available at the time to Hoshino. This was a bit of chicanery on our part, a test to see if his intent was to provide correct information, or any information at all.

As of this date, July 14, 2010, we have had no response . Likely, under the old regime and rules, we’d still be waiting.

Fast forward to today: nearly all the information we asked for, are interested in and feel relevant to lifer parole hearings is available either in yearly or monthly public reports or upon asking. Transcripts of entire hearings are available to anyone who asks, by email, at no charge. BPH outreach to stakeholders (that would be you and me) has markedly increased and questions are answered with dispatch, honesty and respectfully.

In short, it’s an entirely different world today and the next time someone tells you the board is hiding reasons, practices or policies—send the board an email and ask. You’ll be surprised by the response. Perfect? Far from it. But open to discussion? Certainly.

We started this conversation about transparency and openness over a decade ago and we think we’ve all come a long way.

Side note from David. Vanessa puts in between 60 to 70 hours a week to make Life Support Alliance the service organization you have learned to trust and depend on. She's been doing this work for about 27 years. I'd say that's a big sacrifice. Will you match her with a commitment of your own? Can you sacrifice a commitment of as little as $10. a month to keep this work going forward? That's about $0.33 a day. You probably wouldn't miss it.

So, Click the button and make that monthly commitment.

It only takes a minute and you'll feel great about doing your share.

Do it today!

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this is why

Dave and I just returned from our weekly group at CMF--it's now after 7 pm, yet another long day. But I wanted to share an email that was waiting for me when we returned to the office--below is that

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David Sloane
David Sloane
30 mai 2023
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Vanessa is the Champion of the California Lifer Population

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