It is horrifying to read of the recent crime in the state of Connecticut where two parolees allegedly slaughtered a family. The public outrage questions the Connecticut parole board's reasoning in releasing these men. While I cannot second-guess that state's parole board, I can explain the complexity of a parole board's decisions to release.
The Iowa Board of Parole consists of five members appointed by the governor. These people are charged with releasing men and women from Iowa's entire prison system. Public safety is foremost in their minds as they decide who should leave prison walls. Last year, the board reviewed more than 14,000 cases, and, of those, carefully chose 4,600 to release. The system had 6,000 new admittances in the same period. One does not have to be a mathematician to see why prison population is a problem. The board, while cognizant of the prison population, releases only those deemed appropriate.
Great consideration is put into each release. Facts of the crime, past history, treatment needs, community and family support, risk to re-offend and input by the Department of Corrections and the victim are just a few of the factors the board considers. By law, most of Iowa sentences are reduced by more than half as soon as an offender enters the prison system. It also should be noted that 93 percent of all prisoners will eventually be released, either by board action or expiration of their sentence.
Research and experience reveal that waiting until offenders finish their sentence and releasing them with no supervision is a dangerous precedent. It is prudent to release an individual with enough time to help set up a successful transition back to society with the watchful guidance of a parole officer. These individuals are going to come back into our community as our neighbors, and positive re-entry takes time.
A gradual release might mean a stay at a work-release site, where there is a several-month waiting list to be accepted. Finding appropriate housing, job searching, extended treatment needs and family reunification are all part of the re-entry process. Several states have done away with a parole system, and the outcome has been disastrous. All experts agree monitoring outside of prison is an essential part of a successful release.
It is obvious non-violent offenders would be the first ones the board might consider for release. Yet even the most heinous offenders will eventually have their sentence expire, and those individuals warrant even closer supervision and a longer period of monitoring.
The parole board has a profound responsibility. Taking away or giving people their freedom is never to be taken lightly. The safety of the citizens of Iowa weighs heavily with the board. Each deliberation is done with grave consideration, and has the attention of at least three board members.
Yet, unfortunately, human behavior can never be predicted with 100 percent accuracy. I am sure it is every board's nightmare that someone it releases will commit a violent offense. If that should happen, one hopes all facts are considered before blaming anyone other than the perpetrator.