Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Victims Get Voice at Open House; Participants Can Question the Parole Board about an Inmate

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Victims Get Voice at Open House; Participants Can Question the Parole Board about an Inmate

Article excerpt

Byline: Walter C. Jones

ATLANTA - Rape victim Dawn Sibley overcame her sense of powerlessness when she met with representatives of the State Board of Pardons & Paroles about her attacker, and now she's willing to share that transformation with other victims.

"Throughout the trial, when they were prosecuting him, I felt like a victim. When I met with them, I felt like a survivor," she said.

Hundreds of victims have already registered to take part in an open house Monday, Georgia's kickoff of Victims' Rights Week, and the state officials hope more will sign up. The 344 already registered suffered a range of crimes from more than 100 criminals.

The purpose of the event is to provide a chance to meet with the people who'll determine the fate of the criminals. Georgia's parole board, unlike those portrayed in the movies, doesn't invite victims to parole hearings. Victims can submit a victim's impact statement at any time, but Monday's open house is their best opportunity to talk to a member of the board or an investigator face-to-face.

"They do have that opportunity. They do have a say in that process," said Shalandra Roberston, director of victim services for the parole board and the Department of Corrections.

Last year, Sibley was one of 144 victims who took the opportunity. This year she'll be a speaker during a panel discussion.

During a trial, victims who are also witnesses are not allowed to stay in the courtroom so their testimony won't be swayed by other witnesses. But that removal adds to the helplessness, she said.

After her conversation with a member of the parole board last year, the board postponed by 12 months her attacker's first, tentative parole date.

Sibley was just 9 years old when she was raped, the first of our times, so she was still very young during the 1997 trial. That made it confusing after the jury convicted him on only one of the four counts, to which he was sentenced to 50 years.

When the now-married computer engineer learned of his initial, tentative release date, she grew angry and wanted to do something.

"I felt like he was a danger to society. My going to talk to the parole board gave me a face," said Sibley, who lives in McDonough. …

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