It's always safer to err on the side of predicting high risk. You can never be proven wrong. If a prisoner is released, he can go out and commit a new crime that can come back to haunt the judge, parole board, or elected official who approved release. If he is not released, he has no way to prove that he would not have committed that next crime.
Nowhere is that defensive posture more in evidence than in California. Former Gov. Gray Davis had a reputation for blocking the release of every convicted murderer that the state's parole board approved for release. That was a spectacular record, considering that the parole board only grants parole to the most stellar success stories - 5% of the cases it hears, and even less than that for murderers.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has largely mimicked his predecessor, vetoing about three-fourths of such paroles. But, in the latest example of a recent trend, a state appeals court has overruled the governor's veto. The case involves Curtis Lee, who spent 22 years in prison for abetting a murder. He was 18 when his friend shot another young man to death on an Oakland street. Convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 17-years-to-life in prison, Lee became a model prisoner, undergoing extensive job training and therapy.
Today's San Francisco Chronicle has the story. The court ruling is here.