Another View: Some lifers do deserve a second chance

The writer of a recent Viewpoints piece on the parole of prisoners serving life sentences is simply wrong (“They may be old, but they’re still vicious killers,” Oct. 16). There is no “mass release” of these inmates, and decades after their crimes, they are not still vicious killers.

As director of a nonprofit advocacy group for “lifers” and their families, I attend dozens of parole hearings each year, where I see the results of long-term rehabilitation and the highly selective process that grants some prisoners a second chance.

Yes, more inmates have been paroled in recent years, though this change has more to do with the courts finally forcing the state to follow its own laws. But there are some 35,000 lifers in California prisons, so the parole of fewer than 2,000 over four years could hardly be termed a mass release.

Moreover, those who do win parole must prove themselves reformed and rehabilitated through an arduous process that often takes decades. The Board of Parole Hearings spends countless hours reviewing the history of each inmate, including a face-to-face meeting. The commissioners are not an easy sell and always err on the side of public safety.

Those prisoners who receive parole have undergone a life change and self-examination few of us in the free world can understand or endure. We are more in danger from the stranger in the grocery line than from a paroled lifer. The recidivism rate of these inmates hovers around 1 percent.

And lest we forget, the chance to earn parole is provided in the law. Our judicial system is not based on vengeance.

As a family member of a murder victim and the wife of a paroled lifer, I see the issue from an unusual perspective. While society must always protect itself and exact a price from those who step outside its bounds, society cannot eternally warehouse out of anger or fear those who have repented and reformed and are ready to contribute.

Those of us who understand this process and work with these individuals will continue to help them in their return to society. Because we understand that anyone is redeemable – and because we choose not to spread fear and hatred, but seek to understand and be understood.

Vanessa Nelson-Sloane is director of Life Support Alliance, an advocacy group based in Rancho Cordova.