Former Nevada County sheriff sits on state parole board |

Former Nevada County sheriff sits on state parole board

Every week, about a dozen “lifers” in California’s prisons sit across from Nevada County native and former Sheriff Troy Arbaugh.

These are prisoners who have sentences starting with something like five, 10 or 25 years, and ending with “to life,” and they are there to try to get out before the latter.

With those sentences, most of them are convicted murderers.

“We look at psychological evaluation, disciplinary history and the crime itself – how atrocious the crime was,” Arbaugh said, who sits on the California Board of Parole hearings.

Since he applied for and was appointed to the 12-member board by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2008, 62-year-old Arbaugh estimates he’s done more than 1,000 parole hearings at 24 different prisons across the state, from Chuckawalla Valley to Pelican Bay.

“It’s tough, especially if they’re close to meeting the criteria for parole, or if the victims or the next of kin are present. It’s hard to explain to loved ones why this person should get out of prison to them,” Arbaugh said. “I’ve never lost any sleep over any decision I’ve made.”

Potential parolees have multiple layers of checks and balances to get through, checks and balances from a review committee and the Governor’s Office, and occasionally the courts, said Arbaugh, who served as sheriff in a four-year term from 1995 to 1998.

“I’ve had emotional hearings, especially gang members getting into why they joined gangs, they’ve broken down and in my opinion were truthful and honest,” Arbaugh said. “We’ve had some nuts on occasion, too – one guy said he shouldn’t be there because his wife told him advances in medical science brought his victim back to life.”

Less than 10 percent make the cut and get parole, and an even smaller percentage of them become repeat offenders, he said.

“But people do fall through the cracks,” Arbaugh said, referring to Phillip Garrido, the man who was arrested for kidnapping Jaycee Lee Dugard from South Lake Tahoe after being paroled from prison, where he was serving time for committing a similar crime.

“One is too many,” he added.

The work is challenging, with two- to three-inch stacks of paperwork for each prisoner, and hearings scheduled for one hour often taking two or three, Arbaugh said.

It averages about 66 hours a week, for which the state pays $99,693 a year, according to the Department of Corrections website. The entire board also meets once a month.

It’s going to get busier, however, as the first prisoners under the “three strikes” law are coming up on their minimum sentences, adding to the parole board’s load, Arbaugh said.

Arbaugh has been appointed by the governor to his second three-year term, waiting for confirmation from the state legislature.

“I enjoy what I’m doing, it’s a service that needs to be done and I’ll at least finish this term, then look at the next,” Arbaugh said.

He lives with his wife in the Greenhorn area, and three of his four kids still live here, too, he said. His youngest is going to school in Tennessee.

Other members of the board range from fellow former sheriffs like Peter Labahn of Laguna Beach to attorney Mary Ann Tardiff of Atascadero.

Go to to learn more about the board and its other members.

To contact Staff Writer Greyson Howard, e-mail or call (530) 477-4237.

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