The Justice Files: Parole hearings take route of social media due to COVID-19

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DRAPER, Utah (ABC4 Utah) – Inmates count the days for their parole hearing, and COVID-19 isn’t stopping that from happening.

The Utah Department of Corrections (DOC) is restricting visitors to the prison and that includes attending parole hearings.

But their own families and victims of crime will not be allowed to attend any parole hearings for at least the next two weeks.

But through technology, one can still get a seat inside.

The Board of Pardons website does provide a link to listen or watch parole hearings of any inmate.

This week, ABC4 joined in on some of those hearings.  Tuesday, Charles Ulibarri went before the hearing officer.  He is serving time for violating his parole when he was arrested for possessing child pornography.

“The long debate is, I ended up with a pretty severe porn addiction,” Ulibarri said to the hearing officer.  “Porn addiction is very shameful. I didn’t want to admit it to anybody.  It’s kind of you don’t know how deep in the hole you are until you’re pulled out of it.”

DOC is following state guidelines which limits gatherings to 10 people. At Ulibarri’s parole hearing there were fewer than that.  The hearing officer, a handful of corrections officers and Ulibarri were in attendance.

But through the capability of a video conference the public can attend.  There were a handful of interested people listening in or watching Ulibarri’s parole hearing.

“I came to prison when I was 17 years old before there was internet and cellphones or anything like that,” Ulibarri said as he attempted to explain addiction. “So when I got out after 22 years it was like a new toy.”

Ulibarri actually served time for a 1991 murder and was released from prison about seven years ago.  Since then he’s steered clear from any crime until he was arrested for child pornography.

But he claimed it was by accident.  He said the internet is still novel to him and the child images appeared while visiting an adult site.

“I would never hurt anybody like that,” he said. “I didn’t seek these (child porn) out.  I didn’t pursue them. I didn’t visit websites that catered to these things.”

Carter Foulger also is also eligible for parole.  He’s convicted of manslaughter and DUI.  In 2017, he was arrested for running into the back end of a vehicle that was stopped in the middle of Wasatch Boulevard.  The driver was attempting to turn to take photographs of the sunset.  According to police reports, Foulger was also taking pictures of the sunset while driving when he hit the vehicle causing the death of Janet Etheridge.  

“It was a moment when I was in a hurry,” Foulger said. “I knew the question (about alcohol) was going to come up from police. I knew it was bad, really, really bad.”

Angel McDonald  also was on a video conference for her parole hearing.

She’s serving up to five years in prison for burglary, assault and receiving stolen property.

“Now I’m going to Orange Street (half way house) and try my best to not ever come back,” she told the hearing officer.

The hearing officer isn’t in a position to decide if an inmate will be paroled. They offer recommendations to members of the Board of Pardons which review the case and determine an inmates future.  

The video conferences are available for both the Draper and Gunnison prisons.  According to the DOC, there have been no cases of COVID-19 at their prisons.  But in a press statement, they claim they have strategies in place should the virus strike their prison.


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