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July 28, 2015

Federal authorities grant parole to spy Jonathan Pollard after 30 years in prison

As reported in this new New York Times story, headlined "Jonathan Pollard, Spy for Israel, to Be Released on Parole in November," a high-profile defendant who committed his crimes before the federal system abolished parole has now benefited from the reality that life sentences in the past frequently just meant a long period before parole eligibility. Here are the details:

Jonathan J. Pollard, who was sentenced to life in prison in 1985 for passing classified documents to the Israeli government, will be released on parole in November after 30 years in prison, a government panel decided on Tuesday. Mr. Pollard’s lawyers announced the decision of the United States Parole Commission on Tuesday afternoon, and officials at the Department of Justice confirmed that Mr. Pollard had been granted parole.

Mr. Pollard, 60, had been scheduled for mandatory parole in November, but could have been kept in prison for years longer if the United States government had objected to his release, citing concerns about an ongoing threat to national security.

Last week, officials for the Department of Justice signaled that they would not object to Mr. Pollard’s release if the United States Parole Commission determined that he should leave the prison in North Carolina where he is being held. “The Department of Justice has always maintained that Jonathan Pollard should serve his full sentence for the serious crimes he committed, which in this case is a 30-­year sentence, as mandated by statute, ending Nov. 21, 2015,” Marc Raimondi, a spokesman for the department, said in a statement....

White House officials have denied that Mr. Pollard’s imminent release — something that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and others in the country have demanded for years — is an attempt to placate the Israelis in the wake of the Iran deal. “Mr. Pollard’s status will be determined by the United States Parole Commission according to standard procedures,” Alistair Baskey, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said last week. “There is absolutely zero linkage between Mr. Pollard’s status and foreign policy considerations.”

July 28, 2015 at 02:46 PM | Permalink


Prof. Berman, do you have any statistics on how frequently "mandatory" parole is granted? And do you buy the Obama administration line that this was all standard operating procedure? A few minutes of googling returns DOJ press releases trumpeting the denial of "mandatory" parole for prisoners convicted of far less notorious (or national security-implicating) crimes.

Posted by: Anon | Jul 28, 2015 6:03:52 PM

If he's going to be released in November and let out of the country (never to return, one hopes), then let him out now. I don't want to feed that guy one more day.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 28, 2015 7:45:31 PM

While the Parole Commission may "trumpet" their denials for the "less notorious," the record (if anyone can find it) is more often highlighted by denials for the more notorious, i.e. Veronza Bowers, Zvonko Busic. A more detailed exploration of cases like those two will demonstrate the role of politics and political influence in the decision-making by the so-called independent agency.

Posted by: alan chaset | Jul 29, 2015 9:19:11 AM

Since parole was eliminated for new inmates and sentences in 1988, the number of "Old Law" inmates who qualify for parole (because they were convicted and sentenced before 1988) has dwindled a long way. There are probably only 200 to 300 Old Law inmates still in the Bureau of Prisons, so such considerations have become quite rare.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Jul 29, 2015 1:12:29 PM

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