HARRISBURG - Insisting that "enough is enough," Philadelphia Rep. Brendan Boyle has introduced a bill that would end early parole for repeat violent offenders.
Flanked by fellow House members and representatives of the Pennsylvania State Police and Philadelphia's police union, Boyle said at a news conference yesterday that House Bill 1567 would increase prison sentences for second- and third-strike offenses and end the possibility of early parole for those violent offenders.
The chief impetus for the measure: the recent deaths of Philadelphia police officers at the hands of violent offenders.
"We've seen far too often, especially in Philadelphia, what repeat violent offenders are capable of," said Boyle, a Democrat. "These are people who should have never been out on the streets to begin with."
As it stands now, a second-time violent offender technically gets a mandatory minimum 10-year sentence (meaning, a range of 10 to 20 years in prison). That person is then eligible for parole after serving the minimum, or half of the sentence.
Boyle's bill would require a flat sentence of anywhere from 15 to 30 years - and offenders would have to serve the entire time.
Once they have served their full prison terms, they would be required to be under close monitoring of the parole board for at least 15 years.
"It's not feel-good legislation," said State Police Commissioner Frank Pawlowski. "It's surgical in nature. It's targeted. And it's directed at the most violent and most dangerous criminals on the street."
Gov. Rendell has said that he would support legislation to keep repeat violent offenders in prison longer.
But the idea has been criticized by some civil-rights advocates, who say it would result in less discretion for judges and more crowding in prisons already struggling with overcapacity.
John McNesby, president of the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police, said yesterday that he was tired of attending funerals of slain city police officers whose deaths he believes could have been prevented if Boyle's bill had been law.
Two Philadelphia police sergeants, Patrick McDonald and Stephen Liczbinski, were shot and killed last year by felons on parole.
Earlier this year, city Police Officer John Pawlowski was gunned down by a career criminal.
"This is a problem that is widespread - and this legislation will help put a dent in what we believe is a violent, violent atmosphere in the city of Philadelphia," said McNesby.
Boyle said he hopes the bill, now in the House Judiciary Committee, could pass the full House and be sent to the Senate before the legislature breaks for the summer.
Erik Arneson, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware), said: "We share the concerns about violent offenders that the bill is trying to address, and we will take a serious look at the legislation after it passes the House. However, at this point amendments are a very real possibility."
Crimes that would be covered under Boyle's bill: murder of the third degree, voluntary manslaughter, rape, incest, kidnapping, and robbery, among others.
The measure would also classify the criminal assault of a law enforcement officer - as well as the use of a firearm while committing a felony - as "crimes of violence," meaning they, too, would be covered under the bill.