Notification service fails widow
: I found out by accident recently that the man imprisoned for my husband's death was released on parole. I was never informed of the parole hearing held before his release, even though I repeatedly asked to be notified when he would be up for parole. I wanted to attend any hearing to look him in the eye and have my say. That never happened. I found out he was released only when I called to update my address because the guy is supposed to be paying restitution. I have a call in to the man who handled the case 10 years ago, but I don't know if he's there anymore. I don't know what I can do short of writing a letter of complaint, and that won't change anything. Why wasn't I notified?
Answer: Unfortunately, it appears the process set up to let victims and/or their families know when someone is released on bail or from prison failed in your case.
It appears to have fallen through the cracks, acknowledged Dennis Dunn, director of Victim Witness Kokua Services in the city Department of the Prosecuting Attorney.
The victim advocate assigned to your case for the past 10 years somehow did not realize a parole hearing was held on Jan. 26, or that the man was released from prison on Feb. 20. Because of that, you were never notified, Dunn said.
To prevent something like this happening again, Dunn said he is working with the Department of Public Safety and the Attorney General's Office to set up an automated victim notification system, in which any change in an inmate's status would trigger automatic notification by phone, e-mail or fax.
The man responsible for your husband's death, initially sentenced to prison on Sept. 16, 1998, also had hearings on July 22, 2005, and July 18, 2006, and the parole board denied his release both times, said Louise Kim-McCoy, spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Safety, which oversees the Hawaii Paroling Authority.
She explained that when prisoners are scheduled for parole hearings, a list of their names and scheduled hearings is sent to the Prosecutor's Office. The procedure then is for the Victim Witness Kokua Office to notify victims or their families.
The calendar list with the name of the man responsible for your husband's death was sent, noting the Jan. 26 hearing date, she said. A letter dated Jan. 29 then was sent to your liaison in the Victim Witness Kokua Office, saying that parole had been granted and that the prisoner would be released Feb. 20, Kim-McCoy said.
While saying he "has no reason to doubt that the letter was sent," Dunn said he could "not find any record whatsoever" of it being received.
Also, he said that a notice was sent in March 2006 that the inmate was being considered for a work furlough program, involving release into the community. However, again, because your liaison somehow did not see the notice, you were not notified, Dunn said.
"Unless the victim's family has specifically requested that (the paroling authority) notify them directly, and that was not the case" here, notification is the responsibility of the Victim Witness Kokua Office, Kim-McCoy said.
She did find, in the records, a Victim Notification Request form that you signed, requesting notification by the Victim Witness Kokua Office.
Kim-McCoy also explained that dozens of inmates may be considered for parole in a month, so a schedule of hearings for them -- not individual names and dates -- is prepared and sent to the Prosecutor's Office.
Dunn further explained that the notification procedure currently in place was set up years ago, mainly involving cases of violent crimes.
The last official contact noted in your file was dated October 2005, he said. Communication between 1997 and 2005 involved various subjects, including restitution and custody status. Dunn also said his office had been in contact, on your behalf, with the Crime Victim Restitution Commission, which is responsible for prisoner/parolee restitution.
The communication between the paroling authority and his office "generally is a very reliable process," involving direct contact with him if someone is released after normal work hours, Dunn said. The authority has "been very consistent in providing information to us" and once that information is received, counselors generally also would respond quickly to inform victims, he said.
However, there had been some problems with the calendar listing of possible parolees coming up for hearings, in terms of consistency and content, he said.
Because of that, about three months ago, a procedure was set up in which hearing schedules are electronically transmitted to Dunn, who then passes them on to everyone in his office.
"So everyone should receive that information very quickly after the paroling authority releases it," he said. That includes any corrections or changes in the schedules, which he said happens frequently.
While the paroling authority and Department of Public Safety "have been extremely cooperative" in trying to make the notification system as efficient and consistent as possible, "somehow it didn't work in this particular case," Dunn said.
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
» Victim Witness Kokua Services in the city prosecutor's office failed to notify the widow of a murder victim that her husband's killer had been paroled from prison. A headline on Page A19 Sunday incorrectly said the court system failed.
Please see the applicable Corrections
page for more information.
Got a question or complaint?
Call 529-4773, fax 529-4750, or write to Kokua Line, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210, Honolulu 96813. As many as possible will be answered. E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
. See also: Useful phone numbers