Rendell lifts parole moratorium

December 1, 2008 8:59:00 PM PST
Gov. Ed Rendell on Monday lifted a moratorium on paroling Pennsylvania's violent offenders after a consultant concluded that the state's current procedures for evaluating and supervising them are largely safe and effective.

But the review by Temple University's John Goldkamp, a nationally recognized expert on incarceration, also said the state's parole system must do a better job of identifying violent offenders who pose the greatest threat to public safety.

The state should classify violent offenders into two categories - those most likely to commit another offense and those less likely to pose risks to public safety, Goldkamp said in the report. The review also called for the state to use certain criteria to evaluate an offender's potential to commit violence, such as the use of a gun in committing a crime, and to improve training of parole agents.

"Recent tragedies have made clear that we must do a better job of evaluating and supervising parolees with a history of violence," Rendell said.

The administration did not immediately release copies of the report, but summarized its findings in a press release.

Rendell ordered the review and temporarily halted the parole of state prison inmates in September after a Philadelphia policeman was killed by a paroled felon during a traffic stop.

Daniel Giddings, 27, was shot dead by police Sept. 23 after he shot and killed Philadelphia Officer Patrick McDonald.

Giddings had been serving time for a 1998 robbery and aggravated assault, but was paroled and released to a halfway house Aug. 18. He fled a week later and was involved in an assault on police a month before he killed McDonald, authorities said.

But Goldkamp, who said he had access to Giddings' case file as part of his review, said that given his behavior in prison, authorities could not have predicted that he would commit another violent crime after being released.

"This is a guy who acted very well for a number of years, but when he got out, he as an individual made some very bad decisions," said Goldkamp, chairman of Temple's criminal justice department. "They were things we couldn't see easily in advance. ... I don't know if I would have done any better in reading the signs."

Last month, on Goldkamp's recommendation, Rendell lifted the moratorium for offenders serving time for nonviolent crimes, but maintained it for those convicted of violent offenses. Monday's report was the second installment in Goldkamp's review of the system.

The state Probation and Parole Board also accepted Goldkamp's second round of findings and has begun releasing eligible offenders under stricter supervision policies, Rendell said.

The latest policy says that violent offenders must be supervised for 90 days at the maximum level and adhere to a mandatory curfew. After that, those parolees will be subject to a review to determine if the supervision and curfew requirements should continue.

The state's prison population has grown from 46,883 inmates at the end of September, when the original moratorium took effect, to well over 48,000 as of Monday, a Corrections Department spokeswoman said.

Catherine McVey, chairwoman of the Board of Probation and Parole, could not say Monday how many violent offenders awaiting parole have had to remain in prison under the moratorium. The board typically paroles between 850 and 900 offenders a month, she said.

Four state prison inmates sued Rendell on Oct. 21 over his parole moratorium, asserting that the governor lacks the legal authority to increase their time of incarceration. David Rudovsky, one of two civil rights lawyers representing the inmates, said Monday he could not comment on whether the lawsuit will proceed now that the moratorium has been lifted.

Goldkamp said he will next examine how successfully parolees resume normal lives after they are released and may analyze parole officers' caseloads. Goldkamp said he hoped to complete that report in the spring.


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