Ending parole for violent offenders would cost $55 million

State Rep. Brendan Boyle wants to end parole for violent offeders

The Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing estimates that State Rep. Brendan Boyle's bill - introduced this spring - could dump an additional 1,685 inmates into the state's 50,653-inmate system, at a projected 30-year cost of $55.8 million.

In this violence-weary city and state, Boyle's bill quickly got a high-five from the governor and other bigwigs, and is getting fast-tracked through the state House.

"These are the people we have to use our resources for," Seth Williams, the Democratic nominee for Philadelphia district attorney, said at a recent news conference to rally support for the bill.

But as policymakers ponder how to shrink ballooning correctional costs in a state that spends $1.6 billion on prisons yearly, the staggering sum has some folks questioning whether the plan is worth it.

Critics complain that the bill is a knee-jerk reaction to the recent police slayings and will only make things worse.

Eliminating parole removes the incentive for inmates to behave behind bars, said Bill DiMascio, executive director of the Pennsylvania Prison Society.

The projected cost also virtually ensures that the state will have to build another prison to lock up the baddies who'll be affected, DiMascio added. Plans to build four new prisons already are under way in a state that now has 27, state Department of Corrections Spokeswoman Susan McNaughton said.

Pennsylvania already has a three-strikes law that allows prosecutors to request mandatory 10-to-20- year sentences for second-strike felons and 30-to-50-year sentences for third-strikers.

But convicts often are able to dodge that law, in large part due to the prevalence of plea bargains, lawmakers and experts agree. The average minimum sentence now served by the sort of second-strike felon that Boyle's bill targets is about eight years, data show.

Under Boyle's bill, persistent perpetrators automatically would be charged under the three-strikes law, eluding mandatory sentencing only if prosecutors ask for an exemption. And the bill will boost the mandatory minimum penalty for second-strikers to 15 to 30 years, essentially doubling the punishment they typically now face.