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You say you're innocent; the parole board says you lack remorse

If you're not intimately familiar with the criminal justice system, it might surprise you to learn that parole is often denied to people who continue to insist upon their innocence. One of the issues commonly considered in parole hearings is whether the person has developed a sense of remorse over the crime for which they were convicted. If you're not remorseful, you may be denied parole. This is often called the "parole paradox."

The parole system wasn't set up to reconsider the question of guilt. It simply must assume that every potential parolee's conviction is legitimate. If our criminal justice system is working well, that should generally be true.

If there were substantial evidence that the criminal justice system wasn't working well, though, shouldn't the parole system be changed? Several states are already making that change, according to reports in the New York Times and the ABA Journal.

After a number of shocking revelations of wrongful convictions nationwide, parole commissions in New York, California, and Alaska have apparently been working to change the "parole paradox." In New York, for example, at least four people have been granted parole despite having insisted all along that they weren't guilty.

"Parole commissioners, like the rest of society, have come to recognize that there are far more innocent people in prison than we had ever imagined," a civil rights lawyer explained, "so they're more receptive to that argument [that a sincere claim of innocence shouldn't be taken as lack of remorse]."

Merely insisting upon innocence may not be enough, of course. In the cases discussed by the New York Times, each inmate had substantial evidence that their innocence claim was legitimate.

According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, the U.S. incarcerates a greater percentage of its citizens than any other nation in the world. Some of those in our prisons are innocent -- perhaps more than we think.

Do you think there are a lot of innocent people in West Virginia's jails and prisons? If so, should they be denied parole for insisting upon that innocence?

Source: ABA Journal, "Innocence claim is no longer a parole hurdle in some states," Debra Cassens Weiss, Nov. 14, 2014

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