In the summer of 2019, the state parole board let Phillip Dewoody out of jail more than 90 years early. Six months later, he kidnapped and murdered Joyce Thomas, and kidnapped and raped another woman.
Last week, we talked to Thomas' family, who had questions about the decision to release Dewoody early. Last year, we also wrote about that decision and posted a recording of that board hearing. You can read that here.
We sent their questions to the board, and received a detailed response. We've posted the questions (in bold) and the answers, provided by Francis M. Abbott, Executive Director, Louisiana Board of Pardons & Committee on Parole.
"As the Executive Director of the Board of Pardons & Committee on Parole, I serve as the spokesman and have responded to your questions," Abbott wrote.
What factors did the board consider when deciding Phillip Dewoody, with his long criminal history and such a long sentence, was worthy of release?
The Committee on Parole considers a number of factors when making decisions including but not limited to: input from the community where the crime occurred (law enforcement, district attorney, sentencing judge and victims) employment and residence plans post-incarceration, criminal history, certified treatment and rehabilitation programs completed, and conduct while incarcerated. Since Offender DeWoody’s hearing we have been able to work with the legislature to expand what is included in our Pre-Parole Investigation mandate housing facilities include medical and mental health evaluations when available.
Did they not at all consider victim or victim family statements, or the statement from the Lincoln Parish DA, about keeping him incarcerated? What was given greater weight than these statements in their deliberations?
We do not have assigned weight to these factors as the details of every case that comes before the Committee are vastly different. Public safety is our first priority and we strive to address the needs of victims and survivors of crime. In January of 2019 we created the Louisiana Victim Outreach Program, a team 10 individuals who have been tasked with increasing our efforts to locate and educate victims and survivors of their rights when navigating the post- conviction criminal justice process. We currently offer individual and group counseling free of charge to victims and survivors through our licensed social worker. Having said all this I can assure that victims and survivors are at the forefront of what our Committee Members consider when making decisions.
What weight was given to his completion of jailhouse programs in the decision?
As previously stated we do not have assigned weight to these factors as the details of every case that comes before the Committee are vastly different.
Was the decision made prior to the hearing? In other words, to board members read the file and make up their mind before they go? Or are they making the decisions at the hearings?
Committee Members are provided with case material upwards of 14 days prior to a hearing. Our hearings are open to the public and individuals from all sides of each case are able to attend and testify in support or opposition to an offenders release. Committee Members will only vote after all interested parties are allowed an opportunity to participate in the open hearing.
What education/training do members have to have to be appointed to the parole board?
Our Committee Members take there initial training through the National Institute of Corrections and participate in continuing education through out the year on topics relevant to our work as the State’s discretionary releasing authority. Furthermore, there are qualifications outlined in law for appointing Committee Members. Committee Members must have a bachelors degree and no less than five years experience or a total of seven years in one of the following: penology, psychiatry, psychology, sociology, corrections, law enforcement, law, education, social work, medicine or a combination thereof.
Do board members have legal immunity regarding their decisions?
They have absolute immunity in state and federal courts against lawsuits against them for decisions they made in the commission of their duties.