Reprieves & Commutations
The State Board of Pardons and Paroles may grant other forms of clemency to meet special needs of the criminal justice system. A reprieve is the temporary suspension of a prison sentence to release an offender under conditions which, if violated, permit his re-imprisonment. The State Board of Pardons and Paroles will consider granting compassionate and medical reprieves.
A compassionate reprieve is a release from prison for a few hours or a few days to allow an inmate to visit a critically or terminally ill member of his immediate family, to visit an immediate family member undergoing a critical operation, to attend the funeral of a member of his immediate family, or for other reasons the Board deems appropriate.
Since the Department of Corrections will consider granting special and emergency leaves to most inmates, the Board will only consider requests for compassionate reprieves for inmates eligible for special or emergency leaves. These are; inmates who must travel out of state, inmates who are serving for sex crimes, and inmates serving life sentences. Application to the Board for compassionate reprieve may be made at its central office in writing, in person, or by phone. Compassionate reprieves, no matter how compelling the emergency, are not automatic.
The Parole Board has the constitutional authority to grant a medical reprieve to any inmate it finds to be entirely incapacitated due to a progressively debilitating terminal illness. The Department of Corrections’ medical staff recommends inmates for a medical reprieve. The Board balances the sufficiency of the punishment imposed on the offender to date, with the cost of treating the offender in a state prison and the humanity of allowing the offender to die outside the confines of a prison. Although they are extremely limited in their mobility, medically reprieved offenders are supervised by a community supervision officer. If the offender's medical prognosis was in error and the offender’s condition improves, he or she will be returned to prison to complete his or her sentence.
Commutation of a Death Sentence
The Parole Board has the sole constitutional authority to commute, or reduce, a death sentence to life or to life without parole. Only after an inmate appears to have exhausted all appeals and other judicial avenues of relief will the Parole Board consider granting a commutation to a death-sentenced inmate. At that time, the condemned inmate’s attorney may petition the Board to grant executive clemency to his or her client.
The Board maintains a comprehensive file on every death-sentenced inmate. The file includes the circumstances of the offense, the inmate’s criminal history and a comprehensive history of the life of the condemned inmate. When an execution appears imminent, the Board will usually grant separate appointments to the inmate’s representatives and the District Attorney who prosecuted the case, along with the victim’s family, if they so desire. The Board has senior members of its staff interview the condemned inmate.
After the Board has heard from all concerned parties and has fully deliberated and considered the case, each Board Member casts a confidential vote to grant or to deny a commutation of the death sentence. A grant of commutation requires the affirmative vote of three of the five members of the Board.