by Diana Block
On December 26, 2001 Theresa Cruz was denied parole for the fourth time. Once again, the Board of Prison Terms (parole board) ignored Theresas excellent psychiatric evaluation, the letters from prison staff recommending her release and the many letters, faxes and phone calls from the public urging the Board to grant her parole. In denying Theresa parole, the Board of Prison Terms is disregarding its own guidelines and is arbitrarily keeping Theresa in prison.
Theresa has been eligible for parole since 1996 but each time the Board has refused to grant parole, claiming without any evidence that Theresa remains a danger to society. Unfortunately, Theresas situation is not unique. There are dozens of battered women prisoners and thousands of California state prisoners whose release is being illegally blocked by Governor Davis no-parole policy for anyone convicted of murder which has been rubber stamped by the Board of Prison Terms. During Davis three years in office, only one person (a battered woman) convicted of murder has actually been released. The Board has granted parole in only 48 of 4,800 hearings during Davis term and Davis has overturned 47 of those 48 paroles.
Recently prisoners have begun to challenge this illegal no-parole policy in court and in a number of instances the courts have ruled that the Parole Board and Governor Davis are violating the law and should immediately release prisoners who meet the standards for parole. Although no one has actually been released yet as a result of these decisions, the courts are serving notice that the flagrant disregard of parole guidelines has to stop. Given the parole impasse it is likely that more women and men will take the Parole Board to court in the near future and that soon this illegal policy will be overcome.