Updated: Jul 30, 2019
Some of you may have heard from your lifers about a 'new' parole hearing format, even perhaps called 'the Canadian model of parole.' What's going on? Same hearings, but something of a new process, called Structured Decision Making Format (SDMF). What does this mean for lifers going to hearings?
Well, for one thing, it means shorter hearings. And, hopefully, it will mean less subjectivity in the decisions, less time spent going down rabbit holes on areas that really aren't that probative to the ultimate question of whether the lifer is still dangerous or suitable for parole. Our concern, of course, is that the hearings provide time and opportunity for each lifer to make his or her best presentation. And we were a bit skeptical, especially since hearings have traditionally been pretty lengthy, initial hearings not infrequently last 4-5 hours. Using the SDMF process hearings typically last 1 1/2-2 hours--even initial hearings.
We've now had a chance to attend several hearings using SDMF, including initial hearings and, having attended more hearings over the years than any single lifer will ever have to endure, we can attest to the fatigue those loooong days engendered, in inmates (waiting hours for your hearing is emotionally exhausting), the attorneys, commissioners, even observers like us. And, we know from studies that professionals in every field suffer from decision fatigue after excessively long days--decision fatigue defined as making less well-reasoned and considered decisions. Of course, we want the best decisions possible.
And so far, what we've seen is that SDMF does seem to assist commissioners to hone in on the really relevant factors (domains in SDMF parlance) for each lifer. Those commissioners we have seen who are using SDMF and from attorneys' reports to us on their observations at hearings, seem to be making good decisions (even though we don't always agree, we can understand the basis), in shorter time frame and so far the grant rate doesn't seem to have suffered.
The one concern we have is that the Comprehensive Risk Assessment (CRA, also known as the psych eval) may become a more important part of the hearing, as the commissioners are using that document as the source of causative factors, degree of insight and remorse. Yes, these issues are still discussed with the prisoner, but the starting point now appears to come from the CRA. So it is vitally important that all inmates carefully review their CRA, note what the clinician cites and be ready to discuss and/or correct.
We're keeping an eye on the process and have stepped up our attendance at parole hearings to watch as the process evolves. But so far, we're pretty comfortable with the new process and know shorter hearings, so long as those proceedings continue to offer adequate time for each lifer to make their case, will be beneficial to all sides.
We'll keep you, and our ultimate clients, lifers, informed as things progress.