PORTLAND — The Oregon parole board told inmate Michael Jenkins that he was too emotionally unstable to be released. But it didn't tell him why.
On Thursday, a divided Oregon Court of Appeals panel reversed the board's refusal to explain its decision to Jenkins, a 50-year-old inmate imprisoned on a slew of convictions including attempted murder, rape and kidnapping.
The state Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision found that Jenkins suffers from a "present severe emotional disturbance" and poses a danger to the public. It delayed his release from prison by two years. Under a law enacted in 1999, the board said it didn't have to explain its decision to Jenkins.
"Based on (a) doctor's report and diagnosis, coupled with all the information that the board is considering, the board concludes that the inmate suffers from a present severe emotional disturbance that constitutes a danger to the health or safety of the community," the board wrote in its ruling.
Jenkins appealed, saying the board is required to explain its reasoning in finding him emotionally disturbed and postponing his release date.
He also argued that the board used identical, "boilerplate" wording in rejecting the release of another inmate.
The court found, 2-1, that the law compels the board to give Jenkins some explanation of its rationale. If that wasn't the case, "the only way this court or any reviewing court can discern whether and to what degree the evidence contradicts the board is for the inmate and the court to painstakingly go through the record," appeals court Judge Lynn Nakamoto wrote in the ruling.
The appeals court also told the board to explain its reasoning in a previous similar case.
The board's decision "is an announcement, not an explanation," Nakamoto wrote in the ruling.
"It gives us nothing to judicially review. Our duty is to evaluate the board's logic, not to supply it."
Jenkins was convicted of attempted murder, robbery, two counts of rape, kidnapping and sodomy. His earliest release date was 2010, when the board rejected his appeal.
Judge Rex Armstrong dissented, saying the law enacted in 1999 gives the board the freedom to choose whether it explains its decisions.