Release or Denial: Evaluating the Roles of Emotion and Risk in Parole Decisions

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Parole boards often incorporate numerous factors when making release decisions. These factors are typically related to the inmates’ case files. However, in some instances, parole boards’ decisions are influenced by factors outside of the case files, sometimes referred to as extra-legal factors. According to the emotion as social information model, emotion can communicate specific messages to others, and in this case, parole board members might unknowingly incorporate their own emotions and inmates’ emotional displays into their decisions. The current study examines the role of parole board member and inmate emotional expressions as predictors of parole release decisions. Parole hearings were coded for emotion, parole board and inmate gender, supporter presence, and risk scores. Overall, risk scores and parole board members’ emotions predicted release decisions. Higher risk scores were associated with a lower likelihood of release, and inmates’ negative emotion was related to a lower likelihood of release. Implications are discussed.

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