[Pnews] Don’t Let Parole Become a Meaningless Concept
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Mar 19 10:22:20 EDT 2018
Don’t Let Parole Become a Meaningless Concept
The Editorial Board - March 18, 2018
Some felt Herman Bell deserved execution or at least a prison sentence
of life without parole, but in mid-1970s New York those weren’t options.
No question, Mr. Bell’s crime was a despicable assault on society
itself. In 1971, with fellow Black Liberation Army radicals, he ambushed
two police officers in Harlem, repeatedly and fatally shooting them as
part of a war they had declared on the United States.
Rather than being condemned to prison forever, Mr. Bell got 25 years to
life. Now, at 70, and after more than 44 years behind bars, he has been
by a New York State board, which found he had expressed “regret and
remorse.” Long in coming though the statement was, he is said to have
told board members this month: “There was nothing political about the
act, as much as I thought at the time. It was murder and horribly
wrong.” In mid-April, he could be freed from his maximum-security prison
in the Hudson Valley.
Despite angry reactions from law enforcement groups and others, the
process worked as it should if parole is to amount to more than an empty
word. Our prisons call themselves “correctional facilities.” The New
York board found that Mr. Bell had indeed been corrected, based on a
solid disciplinary record, a “sturdy network of supporters” and a
likelihood of his now leading a “law-abiding life.” To lock him up
forever even though deemed a changed man is to make a mockery of his
sentence: “25 years to life” is not supposed to be cynical code for “life.”
Parole is understandably fraught in cases of slain police officers.
Emotions run high, as does posturing by the politically powerful. In New
York, a notable example involves two women who were part of a leftist
band that killed two police officers and a guard during a bungled
of a Brink’s armored car in 1981.
Though plainly guilty of involvement in the crime, neither of the women,
Kathy Boudin and Judith Clark
fired a shot. They both went on to become model prisoners who expressed
remorse for their actions. Ms. Boudin was paroled in 2003
But the road to freedom has been rockier for Ms. Clark, denied parole
once again last year despite having had her sentence commuted by Gov.
The Bell case is a reminder of how brutal New York could be in the early
1970s, an era of supercharged racial and political hostilities. Mr.
Bell’s victims, Waverly Jones and Joseph Piagentini, were among 12
police officers in the city shot to death in 1971. In contrast, it has
taken the past 13 years to record 12 officer deaths. (The New York City
police, too, are now far more restrained, fatally shooting eight
criminal suspects in a typical year, compared with the 1971 toll of 93.)
Officer Piagentini’s widow, Diane, remains implacably opposed to freeing
Mr. Bell. The parole board’s decision, she said, “devalues the life of
my brave husband” and “betrayed the trust” of police families. But
relatives of Officer Jones have been more forgiving. In a 2014 interview
with The Daily News, Waverly Jones Jr. said, “This man has been in
prison for over 30 years and hasn’t gotten into so much as an argument.”
To continue to lock him up, Mr. Jones said, “would only be for revenge.”
He’s right. And vengeance is not supposed to guide a system of justice.
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
More information about the PPnews