What do I need to know if I am attending the hearing?
Where do hearings happen?
The California Board of Parole Hearings (Board) conducts two types of hearings:
- Video hearings (usually) and
- In-person hearings
Since 2020, most parole hearings have been conducted by video. At “video” hearings, the incarcerated person’s attorney and any interpreter may be physically present in person with the incarcerated person in prison. But the hearing is conducted via video conference and all other participants (the Panel that conducts the hearing, the district attorney if participating, and any victim/survivor participants) join virtually.
If the hearing is a “video” hearing, victims/survivors may attend via video (and they may choose whether/when to have their camera on or off) or via phone.
In some cases, the Board schedules an “in person” hearing. This occurs when it is determined that the Panel conducting the hearing needs to be physically present with the incarcerated person to ensure they can communicate effectively during the hearing. This may be more likely in cases where the incarcerated person has medical, ADA, or mental health issues and would struggle to communicate or understand the proceedings if they occurred via video. If the hearing is “in person,” the Panel members will be physically present at the prison with the incarcerated person.
If the hearing is “in person,” victims/survivors may choose to attend in person at the prison, via video (and they may choose whether/when to have their camera on or off), or via phone.
Information about whether the hearing is “video” or “in person” will be in any notification about the parole hearing, and is also available from OVSRS.
How long are parole hearings?
A parole hearing usually lasts 2-3 hours, but some can be much longer.
Some hearings do not start at their scheduled times because the earlier hearings scheduled that day take longer than anticipated. Sometimes the delay can be lengthy, and all participants have to wait.
Sometimes all participants will appear for a hearing, but the hearing will not go forward at the last minute. This can happen for a variety of reasons, including an unexpected illness of a Panel member, significant events at the prison where the incarcerated person is housed that prevent the person from being able to participate in the hearing (for example, quarantines or emergencies), a postponement or waiver request from the person seeking parole, or other administrative issues requiring the hearing to be postponed.
If victims/survivors appear for a hearing that does not ultimately go forward, the victim/survivor participants and the district attorney (if present) will be allowed to make statements on the record to be considered at the next hearing.
What rules apply?
It is important to know that, at the hearing, the incarcerated person is not allowed to look at or speak to victims/survivors. This is a rule that is designed to make victims/survivors feel more secure, but it can also feel strange, unnatural, and dissatisfying.
Also, both the incarcerated person and victims/survivors should direct their comments to the Panel conducting the hearing and must keep their comments respectful. Of course, participants can and often do express strong emotions, which is perfectly appropriate and acceptable. But Panels are required to interrupt the hearing if any participant becomes aggressive, disruptive, or disrespectful to the hearing process.
Attending In Person
Prisons have many rules about what visitors can bring inside and what clothing is allowed. For information on the dress code, see CDCR’s website. More details on what people attending hearings in person can and cannot bring are listed below.
Each prison is different in terms of where visitors must park and where they will be processed into the prison. OVSRS can help with these details prior to attending a hearing in person.
In-person participants must bring:
- Photo ID (driver’s license, passport, or other government-issued identification)
- Copy of the gate clearance provided by OVSRS, and any other additional documentation OVSRS has asked the victim/survivor to bring
In-person participants may bring:
- A water bottle (this is strongly encouraged as the day can be quite long)
- A small snack
- Medication (only the amount needed during the hearing, and a doctor’s note is recommended)
- Paper and a pen or pencil
- Photographs of the victim
- A car key or fob
- A small clear bag to keep belongings in
In-person participants may NOT bring:
- Electronic devices like cell phones, computers, cameras, tablets, or smartwatches
- Pepper Spray
Finally, victims/survivors attending a hearing in person may be able to have some of the costs of traveling for the hearing reimbursed. Contact OVSRS for more information.
Attending Via Video
The Board uses the “Microsoft Teams” program to conduct video hearings. This program can be downloaded for free and instructions are available on Microsoft’s website here. Participants who choose to participate via video are responsible for ensuring that they have the proper equipment and reliable internet connectivity to participate in the hearing.
Options for Participating:
- Victims/survivors may leave their video off for all, or any part, of the hearing if that is more comfortable for them.
- Victims/survivors may mute their computer audio at any point to avoid hearing discussion that is distressing.
Note: If the victim/survivor wishes to avoid certain portions of the hearing, this request should be made in advance if at all possible so that the Panel conducting the hearing can try to indicate when the relevant part of the hearing is over so the victims/survivors can unmute. The Panel members will do everything they can to accommodate the needs of victims/survivors, although this might not be possible in every case.
- Victims/survivors may request to take a break, which the Panel will accommodate if at all possible.
Video Hearing Etiquette:
- Keep the microphone muted except when speaking.
- In general, a victim/survivor’s camera should remain off anytime they are doing something they would NOT be permitted to do if present in person. For example, victims/survivors should leave their cameras off when:
- Moving around their location / not sitting still
- Wearing clothing visible on camera that would not be permitted for in-person participants
Watch victims/survivors share their experience of attending a parole hearing.
We welcome victims/survivors to share their own stories of their parole hearing experiences. More information about how to do this is available here.