“Life Sentence”

In my post, “The Anatomy of Advocacy – In High Heels,” I mentioned how the successful advocacy of the Ad Hoc Committee on Lifetime Parole was a much longer, untold story.  This is another part of the story.

In addition to research on parole, quantitative out of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and qualitative out of the CUNY Graduate Center, some Ad Hoc Committee on Lifetime Parole members participated in a documentary, “Life Sentence.”  Lisa Gray, Media Producer / Editor / Consultant at Sound Mind Productions, put together a compelling documentary on the impact of a life sentence.  Many of these life sentences were given to people when they were teenagers, many of them unarmed, nonkilling accomplices in felony-murder, one of the strictest liability crimes on the law books.

In “The Anatomy of Advocacy,” I mentioned Jenna’s Law, how Gov. Pataki got it on the books, and the attendant rider that eliminated release from parole supervision for certain individuals, that is, lifetime parole supervision, which wasn’t part of the original sentence.  When I author the full story, how the Ad Hoc Committee on Lifetime Parole got to advocacy as opposed to a lawsuit challenging the constitutional legitimacy of the amendment of Executive Law 259-j, then the story will come into sharp focus, since I’ve been administering it in doses.  In any event, because people convicted of class A-1 felonies in New York were sentenced under the indeterminate sentencing scheme, Jenna’s Law, which brought determinate sentencing to New York State, didn’t apply to them.  The “loophole,” because these individuals could only be released to parole supervision by the Board of Parole: Gov. Pataki instituted what came to be called the “Pataki Rule,” in short, deny everyone convicted of certain crimes parole.  For those serving an indeterminate sentence of 15 years to life – this is a true story: parole panels repeatedly denied this individual, adding 25 years to the 15 years before he was released to parole supervision! – where there was an expectation to be released to parole supervision after the minimum period of imprisonment of 15 years, found themselves being repeatedly denied parole.  Some of these individuals died before a parole board made a determination to release them.

The research mentioned above revealed that the people being released at a percentage below 5% when the Pataki Rule was enforced had the lowest recidivism rate when their release rate was above 50%.  I know it sounds Kafkaesque, but below is dialogue from two true stories.

(A repeat offender – pardon the language, but I’m making a point – for “minor” crimes is interviewed by an institutional parole officer.  Towards the end of the interview, the following dialogue takes place.)

Repeat Offender:      

What do you think my odds are of making parole?

Parole Officer:                       

They’ll [the parole panel) probably let you go because they know you’ll be back.

(The same Parole Officer has a similar conversation with a First Timer, convicted of felony-murder as an unarmed nonkilling accomplice, who’s served 20 years, who is going to the parole board the same month as the Repeat Offender.  He has a stellar prison record, the poster child for “rehabilitation.”)

First Timer:

What do you think my odds are of making parole?

Parole Officer:

Fifty-fifty.  They know you’re not coming back.

This dialogue is indicative of a system designed to fail, with or without a life sentence.


About William Eric Waters, aka Easy Waters

Award-winning poet, playwright and writer. Author of three books of poetry, "Black Shadows and Through the White Looking Glass: Remembrance of Things Past and Present"; "Sometimes Blue Knights Wear Black Hats"; "The Black Feminine Mystique," and a novel, "Streets of Rage." All four books are available on Amazon.com.
This entry was posted in being a teenager, crime, ezwwaters, Justice Chronicles, juveniles, Lest We Forget, Life Sentences, Murder, Parole, parole board, Politics, race, raising black boys, Reentry, remorse, Streets of Rage, urban decay, Urban Impact and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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