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Inconsistent Parole Board could be costly to NY

Every governor, it seems, comes into office with such lofty and well-intentioned goals as presiding over a more open administration than his predecessors did and saving the rest of us money. Andrew Cuomo, certainly, was even more forthright than those who came before him about governing that way.

His record, however, is curiously mixed on one vital matter: deciding who's deserving to be paroled from state prison and who needs to be locked up for the duration of their sentences. The people Mr. Cuomo serves deserve a Parole Board that's more accountable.

It's interesting, first, to note that the board has five vacancies, and that Mr. Cuomo apparently has no plans to fill them any time soon. It's surprising that a governor ordinarily quite eager to assert his influence on every corner of state government is content with having just three of his own appointees on what's supposed to be a 19-member board. Mr. Cuomo has allowed appointees of former Govs. George Pataki and David Paterson to continue to serve in expired terms.

Five unfilled spots on the Parole Board saves the state $508,000 a year. We appreciate the symbolism there, of course. And the savings, while limited, would be justified if the board were operating well. But that isn't clearly the case just now.

A story by the Times Union's James M. Odato last week detailed how the Parole Board is loath to free foreign prisoners who, if they weren't being held by the state, would be immediately deported. Some 281 such inmates have been denied parole in recent years, and thus blocked from deportation. Other foreign inmates, meanwhile, haven't even been granted parole hearings.

Keeping these people locked up here, rather than leaving their fate up to law enforcement officials in their home countries, costs New York $42,000 per inmate annually. That's real money — $12 million, enough to keep the Parole Board at full staff for years to come.

Why is the Parole Board keeping the state's prisons full of people who could so easily be, to put it quite bluntly, another country's problem? And what might Mr. Cuomo think about that?

Who really knows? Alas, Parole Board Chairwoman Andrea Evans won't even consent to an interview. Instead, parole policy seems guided by decisions made for vague or otherwise unspecific reasons.

We can only wonder, meanwhile, what a few new parole commissioners might have to say about a philosophy that prefers incarceration to deportation.

They might take particular umbrage, or so we would hope, at the refusal to send home nonviolent foreign offenders. They can be released and deported after completing just half of their minimum sentences.

A stronger case — namely that a sense of justice requires keeping people who deserve to be in prison right here — might be made about violent offenders, even when deportation would be the much less expensive option.

That's the position, in essence, of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. So why can't anyone on the Parole Board say even that much?

Maybe they're too busy. That's a lame excuse, though, for stonewalling the taxpayers who support the board.

As for the half-million dollars a year that Mr. Cuomo is saving by keeping the Parole Board so small, let it be said that New Yorkers seem to be getting what they pay for.

From The Times Union of Albany, Sept. 23
October 01, 2012

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