2008-02-13 / Features

Maltese, Padavan Push For Tougher Parole Rules

BY JOHN TOSCANO

Republican lawmakers from Queens announced new legislation last week which would restrict the release from prison of potentially dangerous violent felons, strengthens victims' rights and increases transparency in the parole process.

State Senators Serphin Maltese and Frank Padavan said the legislation is a direct response to the troubling pattern of escalating parole release rates for violent criminals since Governor Eliot Spitzer took office.

"[The] pattern that will serve to weaken the state's criminal justice system and place the public at greater risk," Maltese (R- C, Middle Village) charged.

The lawmakers also pointed out that the governor's proposed budget calls for the closing of four correctional facilities and the expansion of the state's "compassionate release" policy for inmates, including those classified as dangerous felons. This policy would be changed so that inmates who have a "permanent" illness can be released without intensive supervision. Presently the law provides only terminally ill inmates can be released, but must remain under intensive supervision.

Padavan and Maltese also noted that last November, the Spitzer administration tried to quietly negotiate a settlement that would allow new hearings for thousands of inmates who claimed they were denied parole release. When the court negotiations were made public, opposition arose from the public and the Republican senate, and the Spitzer administration dropped the plan.

Summing up his criticisms of Spitzer's soft parole policies, Padavan (R- C, Bellerose) declared: "This pattern of misguided and senseless action by the Parole Board and the Spitzer administration has eroded laws we adopted with bipartisan support that have protected New Yorkers everywhere from dangerous violent offenders from seeking parole.

"Our legislation sends a lesson loud and clear- that dangerous felons belong behind bars and out of our communities and away from our neighborhoods."

Maltese stated: "We must defend the safety of crime victims and our communities and help to ensure that cop killers and other vicious criminals are kept behind bars where they belong."

In pursuit of that goal, the legislation introduced by the Senate majority:

•Requires at least three Parole Board members to conduct parole hearings for inmates convicted of a Class A felony and require a unanimous vote, rather than a majority vote, for a parole to be granted.

•Requires the Division of Parole to provide an annual report to the state legislature on all parole releases, release rates and other pertinent information.

•Mandates the Division of Parole to inform a local district attorney when a person who was convicted of a Class A felony or is a violent felony offender from his county is being paroled.

The proposed law also addresses crime victim concerns by mandating that a victim doesn't have to receive notice of a parole hearing when a person is convicted but can receive one at a later day; require the Division of Parole to maintain a listing of inmates and their parole eligibility dates on its Web site; establish a system to allow a crime victim to receive notice when their perpetrator is to appear before the Parole Board, and inform victims via the Web site of their right to make a written or an oral statement at a parole hearing.

Noting that the senate and the Assembly had enacted tough laws that had played a part in reducing crime throughout the state, Maltese declared the senate "will not stand quietly which the governor undermines this progress and dangerously shifts parole release policies". Padavan stated, "It's mind boggling that the Parole Board would soften its standards and increase the granting of parole releases for dangerous and violent felons."

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