Tue February 5, 2008
Senate GOP, Spitzer Dispute Meaning of Parole Release Numbers
Albany, New York – Senate Republicans accuse Governor Spitzer of letting too many convicted violent felons out on parole, compared to his predecessor. They are introducing a bill that they say will remedy that.
The Senate GOP charges that, under Governor Spitzer, many more inmates convicted of violent felonies have been let out of prison on parole. They say the convicts, who committed murder and other serious offenses, are being released at a rate that's over twice as high as that of Spitzer's predecessor, Republican George Pataki. Senator Martin Golden, a Brooklyn Republican, says the releases could endanger New Yorkers.
"It's holding a gun to the head of public policy," said Golden. "And it's only a matter of time before one of these convicts shoots that gun."
Senate GOP leaders, surrounded by family members of crime victims, also displayed a large poster with the word "Jailbreak" in bold letters. State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno says the increase in releases of the convicts, combined with Spitzer's plan to close down some prison work camps and juvenile detention centers, indicates the governor is "soft on crime".
Bruno says the Senate will pass a bill to better notify crime victims when an inmate is up for parole. It would require that the Division of Parole post the hearing schedules for prisoners on it's website, and contact the local District Attorney who handled the case when an inmate is up for parole.
Spitzer Administration officials reacted immediately, making available Homeland Security and Public Safety Director Michael Balboni, who until 2007, was a Republican State Senator, and Denise O'Donnell, a former federal prosecutor from Buffalo, who now advises Spitzer on crime issues. They agreed that the Senate GOP was right to put the focus on crime victims. But O'Donnell says parole board members are simply following the law, and have not changed their philosophy when it comes to releasing violent felons on parole.
"I know people are concerned about this issue," O'Donnell said. "But when you look at the facts, the decisions that the parole board has been making are very, very careful ones that have not jeopardized public safety."
Balboni says the recidivism rate of the convicts has been extremely low, and none of those paroled have committed another violent crime. Spitzer Administration officials point out that the majority of the parole board members were appointed by former Governor Pataki, and confirmed by the Republican Senate.
Prisoner's rights groups have charged that under former Governor George Pataki, parole board officials were told to keep inmates in jail longer, even if they were eligible for parole. That accusation is the subject of a lawsuit by prisoners. O'Donnell denied that parole officials were restrained under Pataki, while Balboni was more circumspect, saying he could not comment because of the on-going litigation.
The former Senate Republican, now Homeland Security director, sought to diffuse the criticism coming from his former colleagues in the Senate.
"We're not looking at this as necessarily an attack on the system," Balboni said. He said instead it's the beginning of a "positive, very important dialogue" on the criminal justice system.
While Balboni and O'Donnell emphasized areas of agreements with the Senate, a statement from Governor Spitzer's press secretary was more strongly worded. Errol Cockfield said the parole board is independent, and following the law, and "attempts to distort these facts are blatantly political".