TWO VERSIONS of the same story:
Version 1: Last Wednesday night, three children and a mother are killed when Donta Cradock plows his car into them; he's fleeing the police after he and a friend steal a motorcycle. Both Cradock and Ivan Rodriquez have a history of 13 arrests between them. After Cradock left a detention center two months ago and failed to return, his mother called his probation officer. No one came to get him.
Version 2: Last Thursday, an audit of the state's parole and probation system points to systemic failures, sloppy record keeping and inadequate documentation that is undermining public safety, and suggests that unless something changes, we can expect more tragedies like last Wednesday's.
The release of Auditor General Jack Wagner's report faulting the Board of Probation and Parole for lax oversight, just hours after the deadly crash in Feltonville, was surely a coincidence, but it should serve as a screaming wake-up call to the governor, elected officials and the Board of Probation and Parole to address these lapses — now.
Wagner's report also comes six months after the governor lifted a two-month moratorium on parole for violent offenders; that moratorium followed the slaying of Philadelphia Police Sgt. Patrick McDonald by a violent offender out on parole. Rendell at that time ordered a review of the parole process by Temple University criminal justice expert Dr. John Goldkamp; his report found that the review process for granting parole was sound.
Wagner's audit suggests that the Parole Board tried to hold this report up as a shield from the critical findings of how well parole actually works; Wagner's office rightly found no connection.
The audit cites lapses in oversight of parole agents and parolees, which could result in parolees not being adequately supervised by the state. For example, of 24 absconded parolees, nine hadn't met with a parole officer for three years, and four hadn't seen one for five years. (See the report at www.auditorgen.state.pa.us)
Parole officers' caseloads may certainly be one issue; each officer handles 75 cases. Other states average 50; prison guard-to-inmate ratios tend to be significantly lower. As prison populations continue to swell, these parole workloads will get even higher ... and so will real risks to public safety. Spending more money building more prisons or making laws to keep more people in prisons longer is not the answer; making parole and probation a policy and budget priority is long overdue. *