Independent Review Validates State’s Parole Procedures, Suggests Improvements

HARRISBURG – Gov. Edward G. Rendell accepted an independent expert’s recommendations for improving Pennsylvania’s corrections and parole system after a thorough review largely found that existing procedures were sound.

Dr. John Goldkamp, chair of Temple University’s Department of Criminal Justice, said that while his recommendations could provide additional assurance that violent offenders who are paroled will not pose a risk to public safety, the policies and procedures employed by the commonwealth prior to his review were based on an extensive review of factors and data and are widely considered “best field practices.”

Rendell asked Goldkamp in September to conduct an extensive, independent review of the processes by which the state agencies prepare inmates for release, determine whether to parole an inmate with a history of violence, and supervise offenders under pre-release or parole status. This is Goldkamp’s second report to Rendell.

After reviewing Goldkamp’s new report, the Probation and Parole Board reached a consensus to concur with its findings and begin processing eligible offenders under more intensive supervision policies as it and the Department of Corrections continue to consider other recommendations offered by Goldkamp.

Under the Board of Probation and Parole’s new policy, all violent offenders will be supervised for the first 90 days at the maximum level and will be subject to a mandatory curfew. The parolee will also automatically be reviewed for re-entry support services to ensure they are better prepared to manage life outside of the correctional system. After the first 90 days, parolees will be reviewed to determine if the maximum supervision level and the mandatory curfew should continue.

“I’m encouraged that, to a large extent, Dr. Goldkamp found that our existing policies and procedures compare favorably with those of other states,” said Rendell. “However, we must not become complacent and assume our efforts cannot be improved upon.

“We must recognize that most offenders—other than those who are serving life or death sentences—are almost certain to be released from prison at some point. We must have sound policies and procedures in place to ensure that when parolees are released, they have the support and resources they need to succeed in the community. Furthermore, we must have a sufficient level of supervision to ensure that anyone who demonstrates a risk to the public will be returned to incarceration.

“I commend the board for adopting Professor Goldkamp’s recommendation that when considering a parole, regardless of the crime for which an offender is serving time, if he or she has a prior violent offense, they will be reviewed as a violent offender,” said the governor. “This makes sense and will most certainly increase the level of scrutiny exercised by the board on the public’s behalf.”

“Compared with practices relating to violent offenders employed in other states or described by professional organizations and the research literature as ‘best field practices,’ the approach used by Pennsylvania’s parole board appear to stand up well,” said Goldkamp in the report. “In addition to singling out violent cases for separate handling in the parole decision process, the Parole Board draws upon a wealth of background data concerning the offender’s prior history, behavior before and during incarceration, psychological and risk assessments and issues raised by violence-related aspects of the instant offense.”

Among the recommendations offered today, Goldkamp discusses a reasonable working definition of types of violent offenders so that effective management strategies are used for violent and non-violent categories of offenders.

The report recommends dividing the violent offender category into two groups based on potential public safety risk. These offenders are subject to specialized management by the two state agencies. His recommended classification process includes special community corrections centers for higher risk, violent offenders and on-site parole agents who are trained to work with violent offenders.

“Recent tragedies have made clear that we must do a better job of evaluating and supervising parolees with a history of violence,” said the governor. “The interim measures taken by the parole board will ensure a higher level of supervision for paroled violent offenders, but I agree with Dr. Goldkamp’s assessment that we must do a better job of identifying those offenders who are a high-risk for committing another offense. Dr. Goldkamp has provided a framework by which to do that.

“I appreciate the thorough consideration Dr. Goldkamp has given this issue thus far and I am pleased that he identified specific areas where we must improve. I expect the Department of Corrections and the Board of Probation and Parole to use this report and make the necessary changes offered here to better protect the public’s safety.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Recommendations from Dr. Goldkamp’s most recent report, which are intended to build upon current practices of the Department of Corrections and Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, include:

-Using two categories to identify and classify violent offenders, with the first being those violent offenders with the greatest likelihood of posing risks to public safety, and the second being those violent offenders that are less likely to pose risks to public safety.

-Using the following criteria to assess violence potential:

  -An offender’s current offense;

  -An offender’s prior history of violence, including a violent offense conviction within the past 10 years and an adjudication or conviction for a violent offense committed prior to age 16; and

  -The use of a gun during the offense.

-Other indicators of violence that are obtained and that do not meet these criteria should be noted in the parole guidelines for informational purposes and taken into consideration during the parole decision stage.

· Using multiple tools to assess and predict future violence potential.

· The regular review and evaluation of assessment and prediction tools to ensure their validity and efficacy.

· Ensuring continuous collaboration between the DOC and PBPP throughout an offender’s incarceration and transition through release to ensure and provide for continuity of supervision.

· Ensuring an offender has immediate contact with parole agents within the first 24 hours of release.

· Ensuring intensive offender accountability, supervision and services within the first 90 days of release.

· Enhancing training of parole agents to make them specialists in dealing with violent offenders.

· Ensuring a review of the community corrections system is conducted to determine its effectiveness and impact upon offenders.

· Locating offices of specially trained parole agents in community corrections centers.

· Determining how divergent risk information should be considered under parole decision policies or guidelines.

· Examining the role of community corrections centers.

In addition to the review being conducted by Dr. Goldkamp, DOC and PBPP officials also are reviewing their systems. Some of the system reviews recommendations so far include:

· Enhancing DOC psychological reports and improving staff training so employees can better analyze the reports and indicated risks.

· Adding additional risk factor indicators and violence potential indexes to the assessment process used during offender reception.

· Adding a third risk assessment tool that would measure current and prior histories and potential risks and list all of this information in one easily-accessible location for staff.

· Distributing the recently updated DOC policy governing pre-release, which includes a higher level of DOC official review of problematic cases prior to pre-release placement.

· Opening a special community corrections center in the Philadelphia area that would house violent offenders; with plans for one such center in each region of the state.

· Conducting a thorough review of the community corrections system for its effectiveness in inmate transition back to the community following incarceration.

· Using additional programs aimed at violence prevention that would be tailored to the offender’s low or high risk for violence.

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