Monday, November 23, 2009

Parole in Utah

Utah State capitol

Utah uses indeterminate sentencing for prison terms. That means that if you get sentenced to prison, the judge sentences you to a term of, say, 0-5 years in the Utah State Prison. Then, periodically, you go before the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole which decides whether you stay in prison or whether you are released on parole. As the Salt Lake Tribune reports today, "The board members wield plenty of power, and they know it."

Robert Yeates, one of the board's five members, is my former boss from my days at the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice. I have not appeared in front of him at a parole hearing, but I am confident that he is a fair-minded man who will use the immense power he now has over the lives of prison inmates with as much justice as he can.

Mr. Yeates has served as a prosecutor for Salt Lake County, Third District Juvenile Court judge, the director of the Utah Sentencing Commission, and Executive Director of the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice. He was appointed to the Board of Pardons in March of 2009.

I worked for Mr. Yeates as an intern during law school when he was the Executive Director of the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice. He is a compassionate person who appreciates the effects government decisions can have on the accused in criminal cases, victims, and underserved members of society.

For example, Mr. Yeates and another of my former bosses, Sim Gill, have advocated a more nuanced approach to individuals with mental illness who are incarcerated. They have advanced the idea of a mental health court that would address the unique needs of the mentally ill who overwhelm the jail and prison systems.

I am not convinced that Utah's indefinite sentencing system is the best way to administer justice to those convicted of felonies. But I am pleased that someone as compassionate as Mr. Yeates is serving on this powerful board.

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