By Jerzy Shedlock

During its annual public meeting, the state's Parole Board on Wednesday unanimously passed proposed changes to Department of Corrections regulations, including rules on who is allowed to attend parole hearings largely kept secret from the public.

The changes deal with who can come to parole hearings, the process for a victim of a crime to submit materials or a position about an inmate's release and how parole decisions are reconsidered, among other additions.

Parole Board Executive Director Jeff Edwards said victims previously were included only in the "discretionary process," in which inmates are considered for early release.

Now, victims can also weigh in when parolees violate their release conditions, Edwards said.

Former regulations stated that if the board granted a request for reconsideration of parole, it would conduct a new hearing. But a change would allow the board to decide based solely on material contained in an inmate's case file. The practice isn't uncommon in other states, according to a months-long investigation on parole by the nonprofit news site The Marshall Project.

The board's regulation changes also updated how inmates' risks of re-offending are determined. The previous method was established in the 1970s, Edwards said, adding that the new tool puts Alaska's methods on par with best practices nationwide.

The regulation package still has to be reviewed and approved by the lieutenant governor's office.

Family members of two Alaska inmates attended the board meeting to ask the board to reconsider their loved ones' parole statuses. Sitting opposite the board members in a small conference room on the 18th floor of the Robert B. Atwood Building in downtown Anchorage, the attendees cried as they spoke about wanting to see a son and a husband outside the confines of prison walls.

Edwards told Michael Moore, whose son William Moore has been in prison for 21 years for a first-degree murder conviction at the age of 16, he'd be open to re-examining the case.

William Moore had a hearing before the board in October 2014, and his parole was granted with a release date of October 22, 2020.

"(William's) hope is that we can find a way for him to get home sooner," said the inmate's stepmother, Diane Ogilvie. "My husband is not well."

"At this point, I've watched him do everything possible to make amends for a horrific act that he acknowledges. We wonder if there is anything that can be done at this juncture to actually expedite this," she asked.

William Moore's discretionary parole hearing was one of 178 held by the board last year. Early release was granted about half of the time, according to the parole board.

The top three crimes committed by parole applicants were drug crimes, murder and attempted murder and assault, Edwards said.

In 2014, the board held 349 revocation hearings, the executive director said. However, only 16 percent of those people were sent back to prison.

Alaska is one of 24 states in which parole boards need not disclose what materials they use to reach their decisions. The state's parole board files and documents are sealed as well.

Edwards said there have been informal discussions about making the board's process more transparent, but there are administrative and statutory hurdles to overcome. For example, one issue is that probation hearings take place in "the bowels" of correctional complexes, he said.

(c)2015 the Alaska Dispatch News (Anchorage, Alaska)