Parole law needs long-term answer

South Bend Tribune

A decade-old state law that was intended to place stronger restrictions on violent offenders paroled from prison — especially sexually violent predators — is not working and should be reviewed by state legislators.

Lifetime parole was written into Indiana law in 2006 as a way of keeping tabs on offenders who were paroled and re-entered society. But what was intended by the General Assembly’s unanimous adoption of the law hasn’t matched reality, and that has angered law enforcement officials as well as the lawmakers who sought to be tough on the state’s most violent criminals.

The law was prompted, at least in part, by a 2005 Florida incident in which a convicted sex offender kidnapped a 9-year-old girl, raped her, wrapped her in garbage bags and buried her alive. Locally, 33-year-old Joseph Anderson Jr. was charged with molesting four children and agreed to disclose details about even more victims after his supervised parole ended in July 2011. Anderson was on lifetime parole at the time of the alleged incidents.

When the law was written, lifetime parole was supposed to include everything from wearing a GPS tracking device to meeting face to face with parole officers at least twice a year.

But there are shortcomings. For example, someone who violates a condition of parole while being actively supervised can be ordered back to prison. But if a lifetime parolee commits a violation, no action can be taken. The incident is simply reported to police as a new incident for follow-up and not considered a parole violation.

Brent Steele, a legislator from Bedford, who authored the law, said that the Department of Correction wanted to assess offenders to determine which were considered riskiest, and thereby required to wear a GPS tracker. But the state’s director of parole said GPS tracking has never been used on lifetime parolees.

What state legislators intended when they passed it is not how the law is being followed today. Some believe money is at the center of the issue. Money that could have been set aside to pay for things such as GPS monitors or hiring more staff to track dangerous offenders has been turned back to the state and used to build a surplus. In the last three years, the DOC has returned more than $30 million to the state’s coffers.

Maintaining a surplus in the state’s budget in case of an emergency is sound policy, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of maintaining public safety.

There are some serious questions that need to be addressed with lifetime parole. State legislators and the DOC should revisit this law and fix any inconsistencies that could leave the public vulnerable.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to [email protected].