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From 'Release Valve' To 'Political Animals': The Evolution Of Parole Boards

President Barack Obama's decision this week to commute the sentences of 46 nonviolent offenders is an important step, but there's still plenty work to be done in the nation's criminal justice system. One troubling example is the way parole boards have changed across the country, and The Marshall Project staff writer Beth Schwartzapfel explained to HuffPost Live on Tuesday how the transformation of those boards over the years has hurt prisoners.

"Parole was traditionally a way for the system to have a sort of release valve," Schwartzapfel told host Marc Lamont Hill. "Once somebody could prove they had been rehabilitated, they had done their time and they were a changed person, the parole board was intended to be an opportunity for them to leave prison before the end of the sentence."

It's not that simple today, and Schwartzapfel blames those who sit on parole boards. Mostly appointed by governors, parole boards are now "political animals" who fear making decisions that could tarnish the image of the politician who chose them. 

"Parole boards in general, given the climate of the last 20 years, have been exceedingly conservative in their decision-making," Schwartzapfel said. "And as a result, thousands upon thousands of people who could safely be sent home remain in prison."

Watch Schwartzapfel outline the inherent issues in our parole system in the video above, and click here for the full discussion about Obama commuting the sentences of 46 prisoners. 

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