John Perzel

represents Philadelphia's 172d State House District

In the wake of the murder of Philadelphia Police Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski by three violent offenders earlier this year, Commissioner Charles Ramsey noted that these killers "should never have been out on the street."

I could not agree more. With that in mind, Reps. John Taylor (R., Philadelphia), George Kenney (R., Philadelphia/Montgomery), and I introduced a package of bills to strengthen our parole laws and ensure that violent offenders remain behind bars for as long as possible.

Following the murder of Philadelphia Police Sgt. Patrick McDonald by another parolee, Gov. Rendell heeded our call to stop parole for all violent offenders until a review of Pennsylvania's parole system could be conducted.

While I commend the governor for ordering the review, I am stunned at the conclusions reached by that review and by his decision to lift the moratorium.

It is astonishing that the review would conclude that the current system for evaluating and supervising parolees is safe and effective. McDonald's killer, who had been convicted of robbery, aggravated assault, and possession of an instrument of crime, was paroled despite more than 20 disciplinary infractions while in prison.

No one can seriously argue that this individual was ready to be released into the community. The fact that he was released despite his extensive criminal record and his inability to live by the rules, even while incarcerated, is a clear indication that the parole system is not functioning safely or effectively.

In addition, there are more than 1,000 parole absconders in Pennsylvania. The Parole Board's willingness to release violent offenders back to the street and its apparent inability to keep track of parolees are clear signs of a system in need of reform.

Our legislation would have:

Eliminated parole for any offender convicted of rape, robbery, murder, aggravated assault, or any crime with a gun.

Eliminated early-release programs for offenders convicted of a violent crime or a crime involving a gun.

Required that all mandatory five-year sentences for gun offenses be served consecutively and not concurrently with sentences for other crimes.

Required that all inmates must receive an affirmative vote by a majority of the nine members of the parole board in order to be paroled. Currently, an affirmative vote of two board members is needed for release.

Unfortunately, our legislation was not brought to the House floor for a vote in the last legislative session, but Taylor and I intend to reintroduce the measures next year.

I have also asked the governor to add his voice to those supporting our legislation so that Pennsylvania's parole system can undergo the reform it so desperately needs.