After string of homicides by parolees, state's internal review recommends better supervision

Cherri Gregg
August 29, 2019 - 1:45 pm
SCI Phoenix

Jim Melwert/KYW Newsradio

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections has completed its internal review of the parole system, following a string of murders allegedly committed by individuals still under the state's supervision.

The 33-page report, released Wednesday, includes a sweeping review of parole procedures. It was prompted by six homicides allegedly involving five Pennsylvania parolees. The murders — including one of an off-duty Pittsburgh police officer — all took place between May and July of this year.

John Wetzel, secretary of the state DOC, said they conducted a "thorough review looking at bad events and guiding new policies and procedures."

He met with reporters earlier this week at a press conference in Mechanicsburg. He said after reviewing the five parolees' records, while there were errors, there was no evidence of misconduct or rule violations. Instead, Parole Board data shows an average of about one-quarter of 1 percent of parolees have been re-arrested for homicide or attempted homicide over the past 10 years, and less than 5 percent have been re-arrested for a violent crime. 

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Wetzel said Gov. Tom Wolf has worked to reform probation and parole, and the review also provides a check on enhancements to the system, like risk assessment algorithms and interviews with victims and survivors during the parole review process.
 
"We needed to make people feel comfortable that we weren't just trying to get soft on crime, but that we are really trying to enhance the system," said Wetzel. "Part of that enhancement means in some areas — holding people accountable earlier on — and in other areas, making better decisions that do not involve incarceration."

According to the report, the DOC will create a database of all active parolees and hire 10 field agents who will focus on enhancing state supervision.  

In recent months, supporters of Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill have lobbied for caps on probation and parole terms, as well as limits on the types of violations that require re-incarceration. 

HB1555 and SB14 are currently pending in the state Legislature.

The Pennsylvania State Correction Officer Association president Larry Blackwell issued a statement that reads in part: "Serious consideration must be given to slowing down the parole process until a thorough, independent review can be completed. Lives of innocent Pennsylvanians depend on it.”