Letter to the editor from Commonwealth Attorney Eddy F. Montgomery, Somerset, Kentucky examines another side of the new parole guidelines.
The Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald-Leader have written favorable editorials on the state's new parole policy. They fail to see its immense negative impact on our justice system.
The editors uphold this policy as a cost-saving measure, while crying foul that parolees are sent back to prison for "technical violations." To imply that prisons are full of innocent people sent there by mean prosecutors for "technical violations" is dishonest and misleading.
Defendants are sent back to prison for doing heroin, methamphetamine, crack cocaine and getting new convictions. Possession of most drugs is a felony. I fail to see how committing a felony while on parole is a "technical violation." If you have those drugs in your system, at some point you possessed them.
As a prosecutor, I have handled thousands of felony criminal cases. I support drug courts and treatment for drug addicts. I am not a "throw everybody in jail" prosecutor. However, the first step in criminal rehabilitation is to get people to follow the rules of society. If you don't follow the rules, there have to be consequences.
This new system makes a mockery out of that concept. Under this new law, if a defendant gets paroled but violates parole four years later, the state is going to give that defendant four years of jail credit. As punishment for violating parole, parolees will be sent back to prison, have all their time calculated and immediately be released without supervision.
As a victim, would you feel justice was done? We are going to reward the defendant for being able to follow rules for four years for doing the minimum that is expected by society. Explain this to a victim. If the lawmakers don't want people in prison, they should rewrite the criminal code.
If doing methamphetamine, heroin and crack cocaine are technical violations, don't make possession of them a felony. Don't make writing a forged check for $10 a felony. Don't make laws that are felonies and then complain that too many people are violating the law. Don't tell the public you are tough on crime and then let criminals out the back door of the prison. Don't blame prosecutors for enforcing the laws. Prosecutors do not set penalty ranges; we just enforce them.
It is time to have an honest debate about who we want in prison. Since May, over 1,600 convicted felons have been released from prison or parole. That is 1,600 people who have committed felony crimes and are no longer being watched or drug tested. What is going to be the cost to the public for the crimes they are now going to commit? Has anyone figured that into their cost-saving formula?
The new parole law is a blind attempt to save money by endangering the public, frustrating victims, rewarding criminals simply for doing what they should be doing and undermining the faith of law enforcement and prosecutors. And in the end, it won't save money. Worse, it avoids real debate about who should be in prison.