Saturday, February 15, 2014

Smile. You're on PB TV!

My friend David asked me to be at his side for a Parole Board interview. He's a lifer, but claims wrongful conviction. Unlike most PB interviews, this was a great experience. And here's a major reason why it was so good: The interviewer was sitting across the table from us.

I bring this up because nowadays, most PB interviews are done by interactive TV. It's a simple system really. One camera is set up in the Parole Board office in Lansing. Another is set up in the prison where the interviews are being conducted. These cameras are in a fixed position. Microphones, also in a single location, allow interviewer and interviewee to communicate.

I think it's a terrible situation.

When I sat by David for his interview, the Parole Board member was able to see and feel the sincerity and conviction in his voice. Instead of lasting the usual 10-20 minutes, the discussion continued for nearly an hour. At the conclusion of the interview, the Parole Board member insisted that I assist David in getting his case before the U of M Innocence Clinic. “If what you tell me is true,” he said, “then it's a crime that you're in prison!”

I'm convinced this would not have happened in a cold, impersonal TV interview situation.

A friend of HFP said that years ago, when he was director of Community Mental Health Services in a nearby county, he dismissed a psychiatrist because he refused to look into the eyes of clients---he merely looked out the window during therapy interviews. He quoted famed preacher John Wesley's sermon about how to visit the sick and imprisoned: The word which we render visit, in its literal acceptation, means to look upon. And this, you well know, cannot be done unless you are present with them.

Interactive TV in the courtroom for arraignments of prisoners as a cost-cutting measure makes some sense. But this system for PB interviews is counterproductive. We're not talking about a simple plea before a judge, here. We're talking about an inmate's future, and we think it demands the presence of a live interviewer.

MDOC budget cuts are important, but not when these cuts can result in an unfair flop of a real, live, human being... perhaps placing that person in prison for up to five more years when it's not deserved.

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