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Criminal Justice on Probation By: Michael Tremoglie
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, February 11, 2002


THE MURDER of an Upper Darby cop by a person with prior felony convictions was tragic. Just as tragic however is that it is not unusual.

During the 1990's, half of all law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty were murdered by people with a prior conviction for a felony. A parolee or a felon on probation was responsible for murdering twenty percent of all law enforcement officers during that era.

According to the Department of Justice, 2 of 3 convicted murderers sentenced to be executed had a prior felony conviction. Nearly 10% had a prior homicide conviction. Yet, approximately 3 percent of convicted murderers receive probation.

About 60 percent of adults convicted of a felony are sentenced to probation. Nearly half of those on probation violate the terms of probation, yet only 20 percent go to jail. In 1991, 87 percent of probation violators had at least one arrest for a new crime. However, only 25 percent had a revocation hearing for being arrested for a new crime. 162,000 probation violators committed 6,400 murders in 1991.

Are we feeling safe yet?

The probation and parole system in this country is so dysfunctional that it would make the Sopranos seem normal. In order to do something about it, Penn Professor John DiIulio (formerly the White House FaithBased Initiatives Director) formed the "Reinventing Probation Council, " in conjunction with the Manhattan Institute.

The Council conducted a study and issued a report called "Transforming Probation Through Leadership. " What they recommended was similar to communitybased policing for probation departments. I will leave it to others more qualified than I to determine the validity of their recommendations. However, to the extent that the monograph produced by the Council acknowledged the lack of efficacy of current probation practices, it is a valuable tool. The mere fact that it was needed at all is enlightening.

What is ironic is that the Council, like many others in the criminal justice system, eschews incarceration as an option. Or rather, the authors contradict themselves regarding incarceration. They deride the demand for stricter sentencing and sanctions by politicians and the public, yet each solution they offer involves a stricter sanction for a violation. Strategy # 4 calls for " Strong enforcement of probation conditions and a Quick Response to Violations."

If they do not believe in harsher punishment, then why would they advocate doing just that to probation violators?

This Pharisaical attitude toward incarceration permeates criminal justice. Liberals cite countless studies that determine that incarceration does not prevent crime. They spout the usual canards about incarcerating criminals: It costs too much money; it does not rehabilitate them; yada, yada, yada. Yet, liberal advocacy groups, such as NOW and the NAACP, want more severe prison terms for "hate crimes" and " domestic violence."

Jesse Jackson and other liberal civil rights leaders, liberal politicians, and civil libertarians make speeches saying that prison is not effective and more money should be spent on education. However, when racists in Texas killed James Byrd, Jackson and liberal Democrats excoriated thenGovernor Bush for not enacting hate crimes legislation. The NAACP essentially called Bush a racist because of this. Yet these same people say they do not want more incarceration.

Can you say hypocrisy?

Another irony of the Council's monograph was its reference to placing public safety first as if this were some PaulontheRoadtoDamascustype revelation. You mean public safety was not a primary concern before?

The Reinventing Probation Council did suggest that some are placed on probation who should be in jail, and the responsibility for that is the court not the probation department. In my opinion, probation departments would benefit society more if they would identify those individuals who should have never been placed on probation and identify the judges who placed them on probation. The same should be done with parolees and parole boards.

It is imperative that judges, parole boards and corrections officials are responsible for the consequences of their actions. Just as we, the public, expect our plumbers, stockbrokers, insurance agents, accounting firms, and corporate CEOs (Enron comes to mind), to be responsible for their jobs, we should expect no less from public servants. The jobs that judges and parole boards do can cost citizens their lives.

The Enron bankruptcy cost a lot of people a lot of money. However, no one lost his or her life because of the Enron executives. The same cannot be said for an Upper Darby cop. Because of the incompetence of some judge, there is a widow in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania.

If judges, parole boards, and probation officers want to be compassionate, let them be compassionate toward the innocent of our society.


Michael P. Tremoglie is the author of the new novel A Sense of Duty, and an ex-Philadelphia cop. E-mail him at elfegobaca@comcast.net.


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