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08/28/2019

Department of Corrections Discusses Results of Parole Cases Review

Harrisburg, PA – Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel today discussed results of an internal review of parole cases that involved recent homicides or attempted homicides. Over the past few months, several homicides were committed by individuals who were under parole supervision. Two children and an off-duty Pittsburgh police officer were among victims.

"Each one of these murders is a tragedy. We owe answers first and foremost to the surviving families and friends of the victims, and ultimately to the public," Secretary Wetzel said.

The goal of the review was to determine whether there were any shortcomings in each case individually and to identify whether there are any themes or policies that should be modified to make such events less likely.

"Our review identified no evidence of misconduct or policy or rule violations that would have reasonably affected the outcomes in these cases," Secretary Wetzel said. "It also found that, within the last 10 years, the parole grant rate for violent crimes has decreased and rearrest rates of parolees are relatively stable. There is no indication of any alarming trends with regard to parole releases or arrests."

Wetzel also said that the DOC, under direction of Executive Deputy Secretary for Community Corrections and Reentry George Little, is in the process of reviewing ALL active parole cases –33,827 individuals -- to ensure they are being supervised at the proper level. It is expected that this review will be completed within 60 days.

The agency's review process included review of policies and procedures and each individual's criminal history, supervision history (ensuring the agency is following the Risk Need Responsivity supervision strategy employed by the DOC) and response to any aberrant behavior and parolee compliance with terms of supervision.

The following recommendations were made and will be implemented:

  • Develop a domestic violence protocol to ensure consistent decision making.
  • Increase, enhance information sharing with those who make recommendations to the Board of Probation and Parole.
  • Establish protocol to ensure consultation with district attorneys when a parolee receives a new charge or is detained.
  • Launch a database so that law enforcement and others may easily ascertain whether an individual is on parole supervision.
  • Expedite parole absconder case assignment to the Fugitive Apprehension Search Team (FAST) Unit.
  • Reassessment of technical parole violator cases prior to release to ensure proper level of supervision is assigned.
  • Use the Violence Forecasting Model (also known as the Berk Tool).
  • Issue an RFP for a new risk/needs assessment tool that pulls information for the risk assessment from existing data; and begin use of the new tool within one year.
  • Formalize parole recommendation guidelines for superintendents that will be used to dictate what information shall be considered.
  • Conduct semi-annual reviews of all critical incidents, with the review being co-chaired by the DOC secretary and chief counsel.
  • Augment the DOC's Field Agent Training program.

The following legislative action is recommended:

  • Supporting legislation that closes the "court of record" loophole that exists in convicted parole violator and technical parole violator cases.
  • Adding a sixth violation category that addresses a parolee's continued failure to adhere to recommended programming and/or conditions.
  • Creating a committee that will review and report annually on all murders committed by individuals on parole.

The Department of Corrections, under a memorandum of understanding with the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, assumed responsibility for the supervision of paroled individuals across Pennsylvania. Paroling decisions remain, solely, the responsibility of the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole.

Since this consolidation, significant field supervision enhancements have been made:

  • Increased the intelligence capacity of the FAST Unit, thus increasing the potential for apprehension of parole absconders. 
  • Established the state's first Parole Intel Unit, which gathers intelligence from field agents and submits the information to the analytics unit, who then produced intelligence reports that are shared throughout the DOC and with law enforcement.

The parole review report is available for viewing on the DOC's website.

MEDIA CONTACT: Susan McNaughton, 717-728-4025

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