Life Without Parole
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Description
Imagine the worst day of your life, when you did the one thing you are most ashamed of. Now imagine having to convince a panel of strangers — who suspect you might be lying — how sorry you are. After years of preparing for this moment, you get only minutes to make your case. And the stakes couldn’t be higher: The rest of your life depends on whether or not the strangers believe you. This is how people seeking parole often describe the experience. Daniel Medwed, a law professor at Northeastern University, describes parole hearings as “a trap for the unwary,” where those who are mentally unprepared for the emotional complexities of the process can find themselves at a grave disadvantage. Every year in the United States, tens of thousands of people appear before parole boards asking to be released from prison. These boards play an outsized role in the criminal justice system — how much time someone actually spends in prison, or in some cases, whether they get out at all, is often decided not by a judge or jury, but by a parole board. And yet, few people understand how they work. Part 3 of Violation examines parole boards, largely secretive institutions that operate in many states with few rules and little oversight. These panels are supposed to be independent, but often do their work under pressure from the politicians who appoint them. In the best of circumstances, parole board members are assigned a virtually impossible task: to predict what human beings they barely know are going to do in the future. And they have people’s lives and the public’s safety in their hands. What happens at parole boards is a huge part of Jacob Wideman’s story, and his story tells us a lot about the parole system in America. After serving 25 years behind bars for killing his summer camp roommate, Eric Kane, Wideman went before a parole board in Arizona for the first time. Starting with his first hearing in 2011, he was denied parole over and over. Except for one time.
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