How we analyzed parole data

The Flatwater Free Press analyzed data provided by the Nebraska Board of Parole in response to a public records request. The data shows parole board members’ individual votes at 6,521 hearings from May 21, 2018, through December 8, 2021. The data includes the name of each parole candidate, the date of the hearing, the parole motion and each of the five board members’ votes. Reporter Yanqi Xu led the analysis.

HOW MANY HEARINGS HAD A FULL BOARD?

According to Nicole Miller, legal counsel for the board of parole, a vote of “Not available” in the data meant the board member was not present. The number of hearings where no member was listed as “Not available” was 2,441 – roughly 37%. 4,080 hearings had at least one member whose vote was “Not available.”

HOW MANY DAYS HAD AT LEAST ONE MEMBER MISSING FOR ALL HEARINGS?

There were 322 distinct days with hearings. On 138 of those days, each member cast a vote in at least one hearing. That means 184 days had at least one member missing all votes – 57% of all hearing days.

WHAT WAS THE POTENTIAL IMPACT OF MISSED VOTES?

78 hearings recorded votes but no motion. Those records may be a data error; at any rate, they were inconclusive. Xu didn’t consider those for this portion of the analysis. 

There were 6,443 individual parole board hearings with motions recorded. 2,410 of those hearings had five members vote. Of those, 1,509 resulted in parole – a rate of 62.61%. 

The other 4,033 hearings with motions were voted on by less than five members. Of those, 2,268 resulted in parole – a rate of 56.24%.

HOW MANY PEOPLE WOULD THAT HAVE AFFECTED?

The difference between those two rates is 6.37 percentage points. 2,902 individuals had their case heard by a partial board. (Some prisoners had multiple hearings before a partial board.) Therefore, Xu estimated the number of people who could potentially have gotten parole by multiplying the 2,902 individuals by that difference in parole rate. 2,902 x 6.37% = 185. 

HOW MUCH WOULD THAT COST?

The data and our reporting show that when someone was deferred by a partial board, the most common outcome was to wait 28 days before their next hearing. At the lowest 2018 per diem rate of $22.53 per day, Xu estimated the monthly cost for housing those not paroled by a partial board to be: 

$22.53 (lowest possible daily cost)

x 4,080 (the number of hearings with less than five members voting) 

x 0.0637 (the difference in parole rates)

x 28 (the most common wait time until their next hearing)

= $163,953

That is the lowest possible cost estimate. The real number is likely far higher. For example, this fiscal year the per diem rate jumped to $31.65. It also increases when a potential parolee’s wait time exceeds 28 days.

This data analysis was reviewed by Kayla Jordan, assistant professor of social analytics at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology; Kiernan Nicholls, data analyst at the Investigative Reporting Workshop; and Matt Waite, journalism professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The data is available here. We’ve made our full analysis, written in R, available here