Law takes effect to give victims direct say in parole process

The bill nicknamed in honor of the slain Ellen Gregory Robb, which allows victims to have direct input into state parole proceedings, went into effect over the weekend.

State Rep. Mike Vereb (R., Montgomery) issued a news release noting that the law, went into effect Sept. 1. Vereb introduced House Bill 492 and pushed for its quick passage in Harrisburg.

“A new era of empowering the victims of crime in Pennsylvania begins today,” Vereb said. “Starting today, the family of Ellen Gregory Robb and other crime victims across the Commonwealth will be able to have their voices heard during the parole process.”

The law clears up ambiguity between state statutes and regulations of the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. Between the two, there was no clear requirement that crime victims or their representatives be allowed to make statements directly to parole board members before they had decided on whether to approve an inmate’s release application.

The board’s interpretation allowed victims only to provide information through video, a board staffer, or via the state’s Office of the Victim Advocate.

The new law now says clearly that crime victims and survivors can appear personally before the board and provide confidential testimony or new information related to possible parole. They still have the option to give that information through the other channels if they choose.

“Crime changes victims and their families for the rest of their lives,” Vereb said. “This new law is based on the principle that justice entails not only punishing the criminal, but also showing compassion toward and giving a voice to the victims of crime.”

The law is in honor of Robb, who in December 2006 was killed by her husband, Rafael Robb, as she wrapped holiday gifts in their Upper Merion home. The victim’s family and elected officials, including Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman, became upset when they learned in January that the board had agreed to release Robb later that month.

Ferman, Vereb and Ellen’s brothers, Gary and Art Gregory, lobbied to get an audience with parole board members and tell them why they believed Robb needed to remain behind bars, but met with board prohibition against doing so.

Eventually, board Chairman Michael C. Potteiger met with the brothers, but he said they did not discuss the parole decision itself. He only explained the procedures and policies, Potteiger said.

Soon after the meeting, the board reversed its decision and kept Robb in jail.
After the meeting, Potteiger quickly and publicly backed Vereb’s bill.

“The Board of Probation and Parole is looking forward to providing victims with another opportunity to give them a voice in the paroling process in Pennsylvania,” Potteiger said in Vereb’s news release. “Victim impact has — and always will be — a critical part of parole.”

Ferman also backed the bill.

“Until this law took effect … crime victims across Pennsylvania were not being given their rights because their voices were not being truly heard under the parole process. Luckily, that will now change thanks to this new law,” Ferman said.