On appeal from New Jersey State Parole Board.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted November 18, 2008
Before Judges Graves and Grall.
Peter J. Halas appeals from a denial of parole. He is currently incarcerated and serving a seven-year sentence for second-degree official misconduct, N.J.S.A. 2C:30-2, which was imposed on July 28, 2006. He has no prior convictions or arrests, and this conviction is based on his guilty plea. His initial parole eligibility date was March 4, 2008. On October 30, 2008, a two-member panel of the Board approved Halas's release effective January 12, 2009 and set conditions for parole.*fn1
At the time of the crime Halas was a history teacher and basketball coach in a public high school. The basis for the charge of official misconduct was his sexual relationship with a fifteen-year-old student, which commenced in April 2005 and continued until his arrest in July 2005. As a consequence of his conviction, Halas has forfeited his teaching certificate.
During the period between Halas's arrest and sentencing, he underwent a psychological evaluation and participated in counseling. On August 11, 2005, Dr. Phillip H. Witt evaluated Halas's psychological condition in order to assess his risk of recidivism and propose a treatment plan. Dr. Witt concluded that Halas posed a low risk "well within the limits of risk appropriate for outpatient management." In reaching that conclusion, Dr. Witt utilized psychological assessment instruments including the Registrant Risk Assessment Scale (RRAS), which is employed to evaluate the risk posed by sex offenders for purposes of community notification, and the Sex Offender Need Assessment Rating (SONAR), which is an instrument developed "to assess dynamic, changeable risk factors."
Halas's score on the RRAS was "consistent with that of individuals found in a recent research study to have received non-custodial sentences." His score on the SONAR placed him in the "low risk range," which is "found roughly nine times as frequently among non-recidivists as among recidivists."
Based on the clinical evaluation and testing, Dr. Witt recommended a treatment program and referred Halas to Dr. Martin I. Krupnick for psychotherapy. Krupnick treated Halas between August 19, 2005 and July 18, 2006, while he was released on bail pending conviction and sentencing.
According to Krupnick, Halas's goal was to "address the issues that led to his inappropriate behavior so that he [would] not repeat his actions." Over eleven months, Halas received "relapse prevention training" designed to increase his awareness of the internal (emotional) and external (situational) risk factors that led to his behavior; did "victim empathy" exercises designed to raise his awareness of potential negative emotional consequences of his actions for the victim; and accepted individual psychotherapy to focus on broader personality issues that may have precipitated his offense. In Dr. Krupnick's opinion, Halas "show[ed] a great deal of insight and ha[d] constructively used the treatment time."
[Halas] appears to have been guilt ridden at the time of his arrest and continues to show many signs of remorse and on-going guilt. He clearly understands the impact that his behavior may have had on [his student], and while very concerned for her current and future mental health, he also understands the need for no contact with the victim.
[Halas's] treatment has included gaining an understanding of the thoughts, feelings and actions that led to his behaviors, thus helping to structure his unique relapse prevention strategy. He has been fully cooperative and open in addressing the many personal issues. He has reported that the treatment process has helped him to become more open with others and to seek ...