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Editorial: Don’t rush on reform of parole

Editorial: Don’t rush on reform of parole

Parole is complex and dependent on individual circumstances
Editorial: Don’t rush on reform of parole
Dennis Drue, who was denied parole this week, in 2013
Photographer: Gazette file photo

Whenever a convicted criminal comes up for parole, there are always calls to toughen up the parole system.

But judging who and when an individual should be eligible for release is not black and white, and it shouldn’t be determined by emotion or publicity.

Lawmakers advocating for stricter controls over parole boards and their authority need to understand that different rules exist for different reasons and circumstances.

Even parole for convicted murderers isn’t always a simple matter.

One bill pending in the state Legislature (A7546/S8346) would require certain inmates to be released at the time of their current minimum sentence.

It would compel boards to consider an inmate’s current threat to society and put more weight on the reasonable likelihood of them committing other crimes. 

According to the bill memo, current law makes parole boards susceptible to political pressure to deny someone parole, even if the inmate has been thoroughly rehabilitated, has an excellent prison record and would pose no threat to society — for instance elderly inmates who are very unlikely to reoffend.

The bill also takes into consideration the cost to taxpayers of housing these inmates in prison, about $60,000 a year, plus the increased cost of their medical expenses as they get older.

Another bill (A2350/S2997) involves the frequency of when an inmate becomes eligible for a parole hearing. State Sen. Jim Tedisco, a co-sponsor of this bill, wants to give parole boards the discretion to extend the current 24-month period between parole hearings to five years for those convicted of certain violent crimes.

This comes in the wake of the recent parole hearing for Dennis Drue, charged in the 2012 Northway crash that killed two Shenendehowa High School students.

Extending the review time would not only lessen the chances of someone being paroled prematurely, but would spare victims and their families the trauma of attending frequent parole hearings.

Another bill (A2392/S2730) would require the state Board of Parole to make a violent felony offender serve the maximum term if his release would pose an imminent threat to society. That would prevent inmates with clean prison records from being released after having only served 2/3 of their full sentences.

It would mean less frequent parole hearings, but also would limit the ability of parole boards to determine whether someone has been rehabilitated or had aged out of the prison system.

The parole system is designed to ensure the public is protected from dangerous criminals, and also to provide an opportunity for certain individuals to reclaim a portion of their lives.

Lawmakers need to be mindful that not all inmates and their cases are the same and to weigh all factors before either making it easier for the state to release inmates or tougher.

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