Members of the Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee and the president of the Pennsylvania State Correction Officers Association are calling for an independent investigation of the state’s Department of Corrections and the Board of Probation and Parole.
The comments came during review of a report from the DOC and Parole Board that was done after five parolees were charged with homicide between May and July of 2019.
The review concluded there was “no evidence of misconduct or policy or rule violations that would have reasonably affected the outcomes in these cases.” It included several recommendations, many that are already in place, according to John Wetzel, DOC Secretary, including:
- Reviewing critical incidents twice a year
- Enhancing the domestic violence protocol
- Improving the sharing of information between corrections, parole and district attorneys
- Assigning cases to a fugitive unit 15 days after a parolee has absconded instead of 30 days
- Creating a new risk assessment protocol
The report also recommends an annual review by stakeholders and the addition of a sixth parole violation category.
Larry Blackwell, president of the Pennsylvania State Correction Officers Association, said an independent investigation is needed.
“During a recent internal review of its parole system, DOC disclosed that an average of 91 Pennsylvania parolees have been arrested every year for murders or attempted murders since 2007,” Blackwell said in his testimony. “There was a high of 103 in 2017. This year, DOC projects 102 such arrests. The DOC maintains that these numbers are consistent and don’t raise red flags. It should concern all of us that our commonwealth is releasing more than 90 people on average each year who go on to be accused of violent, capital offenses.”
Inmates also are getting more aggressive in prisons, Blackwell told the committee.
“Even if they misbehave, they know the chances are good they can still get paroled,” Blackwell said. “Prisoners who are placed in restricted housing units because of their behavior are being released early back into the general population.”
Sen. Lisa Baker, the committee chairwoman, asked about the large number of absconders, individuals who don’t report to authorities after being released from prison, which current numbers indicate is around 1,700. More than 20 percent of parolee and probationers in some counties are listed as absconded, she said.
“That’s the size of a prison that has walked away,” Baker said.
Wetzel said the numbers are decreasing due to new “Fast Units” that involve federal marshals and correctional officers who are dedicated to finding absconders.