By Michael P. Tremoglie, The Bulletin
Critics of Pennsylvania’s parole system are saying it is dysfunctional to the point of being scandalous – and fingers are pointing at Gov. Ed Rendell.
“We have carnage on the streets from violent offenders who should have been in prison. Instead of addressing the problem and keeping the streets safe, it appears that Pennsylvania may have put in an “express lane” for parole in our state,” said John McGrody, vice president of Philadelphia’s local Lodge 5 of the Fraternal Order of Police.
After Sgt. Patrick McDonald’s killing, the FOP’s phone lines lit up with calls from parole officers, all stating that Gov. Rendell has instituted a policy of letting criminals loose – one intended to reduce budget expenditures for prisons.
“The governor and the governor alone is responsible for ordering Catherine McVey to empty the prisons and not to send parolees back to prison for technical parole violations,” a parole officer who wished to remain anonymous wrote in an e-mail to The Bulletin. “These parolees are even picking up new charges while they are being supervised on parole and still not sent back to prison. … They are being kept on the street pending the outcome of the new criminal charges. Now tell me if that isn’t a recipe for disaster.”
The allegations contained in the e-mail corroborates prior news reports from 2006, indicating a significant increase in the number of parolees followed an agreement between the state Department of Corrections and the parole board to “expedite parole processing.”
According to an April 2003 internal memo from Corrections’ Secretary Jeffrey A. Beard, potential parolees who were nonviolent offenders and others whose cases were languishing were to be especially targeted. But the memo also recommended skipping certain steps in particular cases, including interviews and completion of reform programs.
“To blame the governor for what appears to be aberrations in the system is unhelpful and unfounded,” said Rendell spokesman Chuck Ardo. “We have ordered a review of the parole system by a renowned academic who specializes in criminal justice. Everybody should await the results of the report.”
However, prison overcrowding is an issue, and the governor’s proposed budget statement reflects the problem. The budget’s public safety overview section expresses the concern about the growth in the prison population and the fact the prisons are currently “5,000 inmates over the point where the operate efficiently, and there is little space for additional inmates in existing facilities.”