[Pnews] Don’t Let Parole Become a Meaningless Concept

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Mar 19 10:22:20 EDT 2018


https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/18/opinion/parole-meaning-sentencing.html


  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 
granted parole 
<https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/14/nyregion/herman-bell-nypd-parole.html> 
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 
robbery 
<https://www.nytimes.com/1981/10/21/nyregion/3-killed-in-armored-car-holdup.html> 
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 
<https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/31/opinion/after-murder-a-second-chance.html>, 
fired a shot. They both went on to become model prisoners who expressed 
remorse for their actions. Ms. Boudin was paroled in 2003 
<https://www.nytimes.com/2003/08/22/opinion/freedom-for-kathy-boudin.html>. 
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. 
Andrew Cuomo.

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 
<http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/slain-cops-families-split-killers-freed-article-1.1589924> 
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.

-- 
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863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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