December 22, 2010

Cop-Killers Not Gaming System

Cop-Killers Not Gaming System
PBA's 'Parole-Shopping' Claim An Urban Legend

Published in The Chief, Letters to the Editor, December 10, 2010

Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch has gotten a lot of mileage in the media in recent weeks (see The Chief, Dec. 3 issue: "PBA: Stop Cop Killers' Parole-Shopping") with the allegation that cop-killing inmates are gaming the parole system by postponing their interviews until they get a panel to their liking. Unfortunately, Mr. Lynch is factually inaccurate.

In support of his argument, Mr. Lynch cites five inmates (four named in last week's article in The Chief and another cited to the New York Daily News) whom he accuses of "parole-commissioner shopping," contending that each of them was able to postpone a scheduled appearance before the Parole Board in an apparent effort to stack the deck in their favor. I reviewed each of those cases and found that none of the individuals requested a postponement.

Here are the facts:

Samuel Hamilton—Mr. Hamilton's initial interview was postponed, but the postponement was not at his request. Mr. Hamilton was hospitalized and physically unavailable to attend the interview. When he did subsequently appear, Mr. Hamilton was denied parole.

Lawrence Harris—We have no record of Mr. Harris ever receiving a postponement. He has appeared before the parole board nine times, and was denied each time. He remains in prison.

Steven Chirse, Ronnie Bush and Rodney Bailey—Interviews for these three inmates were postponed, but not at the request of the inmates. The Parole Board postponed the matters because the record was incomplete and the sentencing minutes had not arrived. At rescheduled interviews, and after the Parole Board had an opportunity to review the sentencing judge's comments, all three were detained and remain imprisoned.

Mr. Lynch's allegation in the media of "rampant Parole Commissioner shopping" and his contention that "cop killers are 'forum-shopping' by adjourning their scheduled parole hearings for no legitimate reason" is simply not true. Regardless, I am concerned about the perception that inmates are exploiting the interview process and implemented the following safeguards last month, and explained in a letter I sent to Mr. Lynch on Nov. 26:

An inmate requesting to postpone a scheduled appearance before the Parole Board must inform his or her facility Parole Officer no less than seven days before the scheduled interview. This will alleviate the possibility that an inmate attempts to postpone an interview because he or she has learned which commissioners are on-site on a particular day.

When a facility Parole Officer is informed by an inmate prior to his or her appearance before the Parole Board that he or she intends to seek a postponement, the facility Parole Officer shall prepare a memorandum to the Board detailing the reasons provided by the inmate for the postponement.

The inmate requesting a postponement will appear before the Parole Board at the regularly scheduled release interview to make a formal request for postponement and to place on the record the reasons why a postponement should be granted. The Board will determine whether to grant or deny the request.

If an inmate refuses to appear before a panel of the Parole Board at his or her regularly scheduled release interview, the board shall conduct the interview in absentia.

It is my hope that this policy will curtail any attempts to forum-shop, as well as the perception that inmates are manipulating the process.

Finally, I would like to stress that it is the Legislature—not the Board of Parole—that has made "cop killers" eligible for parole.

The Legislature could have mandated that those who kill police officers serve a sentence of life without parole. There was no such law at the time the inmates above were sentenced, and there is still no such law (although a life-without-parole sentence is now possible, as a judicial option, in certain cases). It is not the role of the Parole Board to impose a sentence that was neither authorized by the Legislature nor pronounced by the court. Rather, it is the Parole Board's role to apply the law as written and give fair consideration to anyone serving a parole-eligible sentence, even those involved in the homicide of a police officer. That is what the Board does, and must continue to do, until and unless the Legislature directs otherwise.

Ms. Evans is the Chairwoman of the New York State Board of Parole and Chief Executive Officer of the New York State Division of Parole.

See also:
Stop Cop-Killers' Parole Board Shopping: four delay hearings. (The Chief, December 3 2010)