Joseph Fahey, of Pompey, is a retired Onondaga County Court judge. This commentary originally appeared in the Albany Times-Union.
There is an old saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” This year, the New York state Legislature is considering a number of “reforms” to the state’s parole policies and it appears that the road may be headed in the direction of that very tropical world.
The first measure that the Legislature is considering is termed “Elder Parole” and is set forth in S15 and A3475 now pending in the respective committees dealing with this subject matter in each chamber of the Legislature. It would make inmates 55 years old eligible if they have served 15 years for parole regardless of the length of the sentence that was imposed.
Inmates who would become eligible for parole include Mark David Chapman, John Lennon’s murderer; David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam Killer; Long Island serial killer Joel Rifkin; cop killer Billy Blake; James “Jeff” Cahill, who murdered his wife in her hospital room by forcing cyanide down her throat; and serial killer Lemuel Smith, who raped and murdered a prison guard while already serving a life imprisonment sentence.
These are just a few of the inmates who could be released if this bill were enacted.
The other proposal that would shape the parole process is S1415 and A4231, also pending in committee in each chamber of the Legislature. This measure would alter the standard that a parole board must consider from one that presently states “Discretionary release on parole shall [not] be granted [merely as a reward for good conduct or efficient performance of duties while confined but after considering if there is a reasonable probability that, if such inmate is released, he will live and remain at liberty without violating the law, and that his release is not incompatible with the welfare of society and will not so deprecate the seriousness of his crime as to undermine respect for law]” to ”Any incarcerated person appearing before the Board who is eligible for release on parole, unless the parole record case demonstrates that there is a current and unreasonable risk the person will violate the law if released and such risk cannot be mitigated by parole supervision.” In short, the determination whether an inmate is suitable for release will no longer be based upon his or her history of confinement, rehabilitation and remorse judged under the current standard, but instead will be replaced by an undefined clairvoyance about future criminality and dangerousness.
At the end of last year, violent crime and homicides were on the rise in New York City and other Upstate cities during this current pandemic. Why the Legislature would consider releasing some of the most extraordinarily dangerous criminals and water down the standards for release in nothing short of mystifying.
Languishing in committee in both chambers, since 2009, is “Lorraine’s Law,” which would extend the time between parole hearings for violent felons from two years to five years.
Why state legislators would feel the need to extend greater protections to violent felons and ignore their victims is a question that need to be answered.
Write to us: How to submit letters and commentary to Syracuse.com