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September 3, 2009

Lots of interesting news and notes about parole

Article-1210865-064572B8000005DC-832_634x365 In the news today are a number of interesting items about parole:

  • From the Gainesville Sun here, "Editorial: Parole reform"
  • From Reuters here, "Dying Manson follower Atkins denied parole"
  • From the Richmond Times Dispatch here, "Some inmates eligible for parole held longer than guidelines suggest"

The item about Manson follower Susan Atkins being denied parole despite being terminally ill and paralyzed over most of her body is getting the most media attention, in part because of the visuals the even produced and in part because of the recent controversial decision by Scotland to grant compassionate release to the Lockerbie bomber.  This article from across the pond, which is headlined "Scotland take note: 'Manson Family' killer Susan Atkins loses 18th bid for parole DESPITE being on her death bed," highlights this comparative dynamics surrounding this notable parole denial story.

But the other pieces linked above should not be overlooked.  For example, the start of the piece from Virginia highlights the challenges of balancing competing concerns and pressures in modern parole decision-making:

Some 706 parole-eligible inmates are being been held longer in Virginia prisons, at $24,332 each per year, than recommended under the current no-parole sentencing guidelines.

In a report to the General Assembly on Tuesday, the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission also found that as of the end of last year, there were 575 prison inmates eligible for geriatric release.

However, the report also found that of the parole-eligible inmates still in prison, 88 percent were convicted of violent crimes and nearly 80 percent have not yet served longer than stipulated under the sentencing guidelines.

And this part of the editorial from Florida is especially interesting given that Florida's affinity for sentencing some juvenile offenders to life without the possibility of parole is the subject of a big Supreme Court case this coming Term:

Twenty-six years ago in Florida, the Legislature passed a landmark criminal-sentencing bill that called for the gradual elimination of parole.  Since 1995, no one sentenced to life in prison is eligible for parole. 

Today, no inmates sentenced to state prison are eligible for early release under the conditions and supervision of the parole system.  The changes occurred in response to inconsistencies in the application of parole policies, recidivism by inmates granted release and widespread dissatisfaction with the criminal justice system.

Still, there are several reasons for Florida to reconsider its blanket policies against the use of parole.  One of the most compelling reasons is Florida's status as the state having by far the most juveniles, 77, imprisoned for life for crimes that didn't involve homicide.

A bill filed by state Rep. Mike Weinstein, a Republican who works in a prosecutor's office, would make 68 of Florida's 100,000 inmates eligible for parole.  Those inmates were convicted of "non-homicide" offenses committed when they were 15 or younger and have served at least eight years....

[A] state and society should also recognize that juveniles so young that they aren't permitted — for their own good — to drive a car, buy cigarettes or alcohol or enter into contracts, ought to be given some considerations in sentencing and have an opportunity for rehabilitation and redemption.

Weinstein's bill would provide, but not mandate, those opportunities and a chance at parole under strict conditions.  A bill in Congress — HR 2289 — would do the same....

Whether or not the juveniles serving life terms for non-murder charges would be suited for parole and release from prison, no one knows.  Weinstein's bill would at least let the Parole Commission make that determination.

September 3, 2009 at 09:29 AM | Permalink

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CA: Dugard case -- Is California's parole system overstretched?
By Michael B. Farrell, The Christian Science Monitor

SAN FRANCISCO -- Criminal charges against a parolee in the abduction of Jaycee Lee Dugard have added fuel to arguments from some California Republicans and law enforcement groups opposed to changes in the state's parole system.

Posted by: George | Sep 3, 2009 12:44:17 PM


I strongly disagree with Florida law for sentencing a juvenile to life in prison without parole. Crimes that were committed by a juvenile while under a certain age should not only be expunged from their record but also should lead to a future reevaluation of the juvenile and the actual offense at a certain age.
I think Florida law should be reveiwed be The Sentencing Commision. Florida has 77 juveniles serving life sentences that didn't involve a homicide, most of which committed their crimes when they was 15 or younger. They were and they still are kids; to be subjected to such unfair sentences at a age where they really cannot even comprehend a lengthy prison sentence is riduculous.
I'm pretty sure sentencing disparities plays a major role in Florida's sentencing guidelines, which more than likely the majority of the offenders is Black. Rehabilitation should be the state's first priority after the juvenile turns 18, this would at least allow a juvenile offender with a chance at redemption. At minimum the juvenile will at least have chance to be educated on the consequences of his ways and actions.

Posted by: Aaron D. Greene | Mar 31, 2010 2:03:30 PM

I feel this should be unconstituional in the state of Florida for a juvenile to be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. This is not giving the juvenile the opportunity to live outside the prison walls as an adult. There should be certain laws that shouldn't apply to a juvenile up to a certain extent.

Posted by: Kathy Williams | Apr 1, 2010 9:52:14 PM

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