Clemency is typically administered today by an independent parole board, which performs a vital function if criminal justice is to remain a flexible and continuing process throughout. The Board’s existence ensures that the Executive Branch, in addition to the Legislative and Judicial, has a discretionary role in Georgia's Criminal Justice System. Thus it provides a vital part of the checks and balances of Constitutional government.
The principle of separation of powers is upheld when the judiciary’s regular involvement in a case ends at the time the offender is sentenced to prison. Then the Parole Board begins monitoring the inmate and drawing knowledge of the case from the courts, police, prison, and society to form the basis of a just decision to grant or deny clemency.
Persons are sentenced to prison for four purposes: punishment, incapacitation, deterrence, and rehabilitation. A parole board studies the need for and accomplishment of each of these purposes in each case being considered. Justice demands that the handling of each case should be tailored to the crime and to the offender.
A parole board’s view of a case necessarily differs from that of a local court or law enforcement agency. The Board can compare the case with thousands of others statewide. The Board’s unique central position and authority allows it to reduce sentence disparity. Excessive harshness is more readily reduced, but excessive leniency in the form of a too-light confinement sentence may be corrected partially by parole denial.
It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of a Parole Board’s investigative and decision-making authority being centralized. Any substitute prisoner-release mechanism triggered by numerous officials scattered in courthouses or prisons would be destined to be inequitable and not in the best interests of the citizens’ safety or taxpayers’ pocketbook.
Discretion in releasing inmates appears inevitable. The question is where discretion is best placed and how it is best applied. The answer is provided in an independent, informed, just, and careful parole board. In states that have abolished the parole system, other release mechanisms had to be instituted. Many of these alternative systems are merely primitive parole systems with limited case information on which to base release decisions and inadequate resources for effective community supervision of those released.