The United States Parole Commission has entered into an agreement that all federal inmates eligible for a parole hearing who are incarcerated in prisons in the Central District of California will have that hearing in person rather than by video. The agreement arises from a settlement in a case filed by the ACLU of Southern California and the law firm of Greenberg Glusker.
The agreement reached last week stems from a preliminary injunction issued by a federal judge in March that protected the rights of two inmates to an in-person hearing.
U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer ruled that federal parole officials violated the rights of plaintiffs Christian Davis and John Paul Morrow, both inmates at Terminal Island Federal Prison in Long Beach, by forcing them to have parole hearings via video conference. The inmates filed suit earlier this year, saying the video hearings violated the 1976 Parole Act, which guarantees inmates the right to attend their parole hearings in person. In her ruling, Judge Fischer agreed that denying an in-person hearing leads to a detached encounter that could irreparably harm the inmates.
“We’re pleased the Parole Commission appears to see eye-to-eye with us on such an important issue,” said Jessica Price, attorney with the ACLU of Southern California. “Justice doesn’t occur via remote control -- it requires face-to-face contact. Without it, it’s difficult for a judge to truly understand an inmate’s situation. We hope that this leads to permanent change, both in California and nationwide.”
The commission also agreed to hold all hearings within the jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in person through August 31, 2012, while it studies the cost of permanently allowing in-person hearings.