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Pa. lawmakers: No parole for violent criminals

Standing next to pictures of the three men accused in the killing of Police Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski, State Rep. John M. Perzel today issued this message: Violent offender - no parole.

Standing next to pictures of the three men accused in the killing of Police Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski, State Rep. John M. Perzel today issued this message: Violent offender - no parole.

"We've had enough of repeat violent criminals murdering and terrorizing our loved ones and our neighborhoods," said Perzel, announcing legislation aimed at making violent offenders serve their maximum sentences.

Liczbinski's murder, Perzel said, was "the last straw."

He was joined by Reps. John Taylor and George T. Kenney Jr. All are Philadelphia Republicans.

Taylor noted that the men accused in Liczbinski's shooting death - Eric Floyd, Levon Warner and Howard Cain - all had long criminal records and were on parole. Cain was killed by police minutes after Liczbinski was shot. Floyd and Warner are charged with murder.

"In the event that the Board of Probation and Parole did what the system provided," Taylor said in reference to their cases, "the very system of parole no longer works, and we have to make drastic changes to the system."

In an interview, Malik Aziz, executive director of the Mayor's Office for the Reentry of Ex-Offenders, said that a law eliminating parole was not the solution.

"It's legislation that's about punishment, and not rehabilitation or even prevention," Aziz, himself an ex-offender, said. "That's not going to deter crime."

The proposed legislation would eliminate parole and early-release programs for any offender convicted of rape, robbery, murder, aggravated assault, or any crime with a gun.

It also would require that mandatory sentences for gun offenses be served consecutively and not concurrently with other sentences.

And parole for other inmates would have to be granted by a majority of the nine-member parole board. Currently, parole can be granted by a two-member panel.

Leo Dunn, a spokesman for the state Board of Probation and Parole, declined to comment on the legislation.

According to state Department of Corrections data, 16,832 inmates were released last year from Pennsylvania prisons. Of them, 23 percent were considered violent offenders. It was not immediately clear how many of that group were paroled.

But of the larger group, 66 percent were either paroled for the first time or parole violators who were "reparoled."

William DiMascio, executive director of the Pennsylvania Prison Society, called Perzel's proposal a "knee-jerk response" and noted its possible impact on an expensive prison system that is already overburdened.

Between 2001 and 2007, the state's inmate population has increased 21 percent, from 37,995 to 46,028, with nonviolent offenders making up most of the population.

The Corrections Department estimates that bed space inside prisons could run out by 2010.

And the system's current budget is $1.6 billion, up 4 percent, or $68.6 million, from last year.

"Cranking up the punishment is not going to resolve the problem," DiMascio said. "Giving people who are prone to violence the type of services that change how they think and how they act will solve the problem. We need to make prison a place where true rehab can occur. We don't do nearly enough of that. We pay lip service."

As of March 31, there were 31,333 ex-offenders on probation or parole in Pennsylvania, an average of 70 cases for every officer.

"If we eliminate parole," DiMascio continued, "then we're just going to let inmates out of prison without any supervision at all. That's not going to enhance public safety. It's going to make things a lot worse."