Fairness for Prisoners’ Families
The Parole Handbook:
A Guide to the Parole Consideration Process
Fairness for Prisoners' Families wrote this handbook to help people in prison and their families get the information they need, in a way they can understand, from a source that cares about the basic human rights of every Georgia prisoner and his or her family. It is hoped that this handbook will help all people who are considered for parole and their family members better understand the current parole process.
The Purpose of this Handbook: Knowledge, Power and Justice for Imprisoned People and Their Families
Having a loved one in prison can be one of the hardest experiences a person can have. Many people get through the hardship by dreaming about the possibility that their loved ones might come home early on parole. For hundreds of families, understanding how the parole consideration process works is an urgent matter. Next to the parole decision itself, the most important thing for many prisoners and their families is to understand how the parole consideration process works.
An Important, Difficult Job
The State Board of Pardons and Paroles fulfills an important function in our society-to choose whom to release from state prisons to avoid overcrowding, while also protecting public safety.
The Parole Board has another function, as well--to account to the public for the decisions it makes. To do this, the State Board of Pardons and Paroles puts out information sheets and booklets about the Parole Consideration Process, and has information on its website (www.pap.state.ga.us). There are also specific days of the month, called Visitors Days, when the public can meet with Parole Board staff to ask general questions about parole. These sources of information give many families and their imprisoned loved ones a good grasp on what the parole consideration process is all about.
In The Dark About The Most Important Decision In Their Lives
Many families, however, can't make sense of the information they get from the Parole Board, or have important questions that aren't answered in anything they read or in conversations with staff at the Parole Board. Hundreds of families with loved ones in prison contact Fairness for Prisoners' Families, desperate to find someone who will explain, in a way that makes sense to them, how parole decisions are made.
The Parole Board's Decisions: Cloaked In Secrecy
Many people in prison and their families want and need details about the way their own parole decisions are made. However, this critically important information is out of their reach. This is because each parole file and everything in it is classified by Georgia law as a "state secret." (Official Code of Georgia 42 9 53).
The parole file is kept so secret that even when the Parole Board is deciding whether to let someone live or to send him or her to be killed in Georgia's death chamber, the person's lawyer isn't allowed to check the parole file, to be sure the Board isn't basing its decision on errors in the file.
How can the public believe in the justice of such a hidden system?
The Parole Board assures people in prison, their families, and the general public that all its decisions are fair. The State Board of Pardons and Paroles website says that the Parole Board can be "entrusted to make an objective decision rising above political and personal consideration." The website also says that the Parole Board has Guidelines to help it make "more consistent and soundly based decisions which are understandable for the inmate and accountable to the public."
Family after family has called the Parole Board desperate for any information at all, only to be told, "It's being processed," or "It's under investigation,"or given other assurances that everything is under control. Yet recently, the Atlanta Journal Constitution exposed a terrible instance of the Parole Board's failure of the public trust-59 parole files were discovered sitting in the Clemency Division Director's office, "just gathering dust." (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 5/1/04, "Paroles Stalled As Official Ignored Files.") How many other such incidents have there been which were never exposed?
Let The People Speak!
One family member told Fairness for Prisoners' Families, "This isn't fair. The Parole Board is part of the government, and the people should tell the government how they want things to work, not the other way around! We should be able to see what's in those files and talk to the people who made the decision."
The type of parole process we have, the sentencing laws that send people away for extremely long periods, and a prison system that scarcely offers any programs to help people in prison all come from our own elected officials in the Georgia General Assembly. In the past, these politicians have done a lot of "tough on crime" talking, and passed "tough on crime" laws because they think it looks good when election time comes around. They say, "The People have spoken."
But these lawmakers haven't really heard all the People speak. There is a very important group of citizens whose voices have been ignored, or deemed unimportant, or silenced by shame and fear: the families of people in prison.
The Time For Injustice Is Over
Intentionally or not, the Georgia Department of Corrections, the State Board of Pardons and Paroles, and the rest of Georgia's criminal justice system train prisoners and their families to see themselves as alone and powerless. Prisoners and their families are trained to think they don't deserve to be heard. They come to believe that no one cares about the injustices they face. They hear their own elected representatives say, "There's no constituency for prisoners' issues."
The truth is that families with loved ones in prison are not alone, and are certainly not powerless. And they are ready for the time of injustice to be over.
There are more than 600,000 people on the visitation lists of people in Georgia prisons, and they are finally coming together to organize for real power. Each month, 50 to 70 people with loved ones in a Georgia prison join Fairness for Prisoners' Families. As of June, 2005, there are over 2300 of us working together.
We are ready to change the balance of power between ourselves and the institutions of government that don't respect the basic human rights of prisoners and the people who care about them. We hope you will join us.
The Fairness for Prisoners’ Families Parole and Advocacy Handbooks are available to anyone with a loved one in a Georgia prison for a contribution of any size between $5 and $25.* The Handbooks are very costly to print and mail, and the donation goes to offset the cost.
You can also click here to download a PDF copy of the handbook. Please note the handbook is almost 200 pages.
For all other members of the public, the Parole Handbook is $35, and the Advocacy Handbook is $15.
Contributions should be made by cash, money order, or check.
Checks should be made out to the Fairness for Prisoners' Families.
Please include a note that the donation is for a handbook.
Fairness for Prisoners' Families
c/o 83 Poplar Street, NW
Atlanta, GA 30303