When H.L. Haun, the new chairman for the three-member Utah State Board of Pardons, takes over next month, he will face a formidable challenge - a growing workload that appears to have no end.
A report released a few days ago by the Legislative Auditor General showed that the number of cases heard by the board each year has doubled since 1979, from 1,160 to 2,414. As Utah continues to grow and to build more prisons, that kind of rise can be expected to continue.So far, according to the audit, the board is managing to keep up and hold the necessary number of hearings for inmates and parolees. But this is being done at some cost to the rest of the board's work.
For example, clerical work in the office is months behind schedule. A new employee has been authorized for the board but will have to spend full-time notifying victims when the person who committed the crime against them is up for parole. That is required under the new victim notification law. The board now has 12 full-time employees and four part-time workers but could use at least two more people.
Even if the clerical work can be brought current with additional help, the Board of Pardons itself may have to change some procedures in order to cope with the continuing increase in cases.
The audit suggested having the board make its decisions in administrative session instead of face-to-face with inmates. That may be going too far, at least for now.
Another suggestion is for board members to split up and handle some cases individually instead of as a group, particularly the "easier" cases involving less serious crimes and parole violations. Eventually, the Board of Pardons itself may have to be expanded so that it can work in separate committees.
Background material for hearings may be too extensive. Board employees say some board members want too much detailed information, making it time-consuming to gather all the data. A more standardized background file for each case could reduce the workload.
These and other time-savers need to be seriously considered by Haun when he becomes board chairman. Utah's population will keep growing and there will be more crimes, more prisoners, and more parole hearings. The Board of Pardons must keep up.