On the Parole Board

parole boardI am thankful to Columbia University Press for providing me with a copy of Frederic G. Reamer’s On the Parole Board via netgalley. It will be available in book stores from November 8, 2016 on and is a compelling account of what it feels like having to find a balance between empathy for the despair and pain of the victims of heinous crimes and the called-for objectivity for the offender. It is interesting to learn how, after so many years on the job, even Reamer still struggles with what justice really means and what daunting task it is to make parole decisions on a daily basis. So many factors have to be taken into consideration, so many uncertainties are usually to be found, and yet, you always want to be fair to both, victim and criminal. Both of their fates depend on your decision.

I like the way the author masterfully uses the accounts of victims and offenders in combination with his own vivid retelling. The different angles that are thus used to look at certain crimes are a great strength of this book. In his Reflections on Crime, Punishment, Redemption and Justice the stories really capture the reader and you find it hard to put the book down.

Contentwise, the most interesting aspects of the book were the parts about the disparities of the socio-economic and racial background of the prison population, retribution and death penalty, recidivism, and how to facilitate restorative justice. We all have moments when we wrestle with our thoughts about punishment and retribution, as well as with our responsibilities as human beings and as a society. Reamer offers eye-opening insight into these matters, clearly explains his arguments, and triggers contemplation in his readers, without ever sounding overly didactic.

A must-read for anyone who is interested in the criminal justice system. It serves as a powerful reminder of what the daily struggles of finding justice look like. Also recommendable for anyone who is trying to figure out how we can move forward as a society and work on reducing the crime rate by understanding the underlying factors that lead many people into their criminal careers.

In the recent decades there have been many improvements in the way offenders get to use their time in prison in order to reconnect with society, but we still have a long way to go to accept the penitentiary system as a measure for rehabilitation. A lot of prisoners are still subject to unbearable conditions and punishments in prisons such as solitary confinement, (sexual) harassment and abuse, discrimination etc. Reamer shares useful insight into how we need to see inmates as valuable members of society, and explains why we are also making a mistake in ignoring the situation outside of the prison gates. In order to succeed with rehabilitation programs we still have to learn quite a bit.

His remarkable reflections show that there is no panacea, as the issues involved are relentlessly complex. However, On the Parole Board impressively delivers valuable insight into where to start working on the fairness as well as the effectiveness of a justice system beneficial not only to the individual prisoner but also to the public at large.