Rendell wants no parole of repeat violent inmates

January 4, 2009 12:51:41 PM PST
Gov. Ed Rendell on Sunday asked the Legislature to end parole for repeat violent offenders and said the state would expand its supervision of such offenders who have already been paroled. The request came a day after Rendell said he received the criminal history on a man who had been paroled three times before allegedly killing two people in the Philadelphia suburbs last year.

He also cited the deaths of two Philadelphia police officers allegedly killed by parolees in 2008.

"These murders cry out for changes in how we sentence our violent repeat offenders who use deadly weapons," Rendell said. "This is a situation that simply has to change."

Under the governor's proposal, repeat violent offenders who use a deadly weapon in the commission of a crime would receive flat sentences without parole. Currently, sentences are given as a time span - for example, five to 10 years - and offenders are eligible for parole after serving the minimum amount.

Once offenders serve the flat sentence, Rendell has proposed a five-year supervision period by the parole board. Violators could be sent back to prison.

Sherry Tate, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, said board members have been refining their criteria for release and are looking more closely at factors of violence and guns in making their decisions.

"Public safety is our mission," Tate said Sunday. "We have a pretty sound system. If the governor and the Legislature want to change the sentencing laws, then that is fine."

Parole works for nonviolent and less violent offenders, Rendell said. He noted of the 31,000 people on parole in Pennsylvania in 2007, 95 percent did not commit another crime.

The state is evaluating the cases of repeat violent offenders currently on parole for less than five years to determine whether their supervision is adequate given their criminal histories.

Rendell also wants the parole board to place greater weight on convicts' offenses - as opposed to their time in prison - when making release decisions. Some violent offenders "game the system" by behaving well and taking prison classes to be released early, Rendell said.

Tate said parole board members are receiving training to improve their assessment and interviewing skills.

Rendell temporarily halted the parole of state prison inmates in September and ordered a review of the system after Philadelphia police Officer Patrick McDonald was killed by paroled felon Daniel Giddings during a traffic stop. Giddings was then fatally shot by another officer.

Rendell lifted the moratorium after a consultant concluded that procedures for evaluating parolees are largely safe and effective.

On Sunday, Rendell singled out the case of Jermaine Burgess, whom he described as a three-time parolee on weapons and robbery offenses, as one example of why stricter sentencing is needed.

Burgess is accused of killing an elderly woman in Ridley Township in October and an Upper Darby man in November during a home invasion. The man's wife was assaulted but escaped.

Rendell also noted the case of Philadelphia police Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski, who died last May after a fatal encounter with three men who were all either on parole or in prerelease programs for violent offenses.

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