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Submitted 10:38 a.m.
03.06.2015
Letter to the Editor

Since I was in prison for [39 years], I'm not eligible for social security or retirement. When is the punishment supposed to stop? ”

Joe Dyer of Crossville, TN

I appreciate your efforts to bring to the public's attention the need to reevaluate sentencing structures to reduce prison populations. I think another area you may have overlooked that would also reduce prison populations is parole reform.

In Tennessee, as in many states, parole release is entirely discretionary, with the parole board members able to act on a whim, or on political considerations rather than an inmate's fitness for parole.

As a result, there is a disparity in release rates for different crimes. The legislature sets the sentence ranges and parole eligibility dates for crimes, but the parole board wishes to re-try the cases to decide how much time someone should serve. People unfortunate enough to have went to a jury trial rather than plea bargain, if convicted, receive harsher sentences.

As an example, two friends of mine were both involved in a robbery attempt when a third participant shot and killed two victims. One of my friends went to trial, and received two life sentences. The other friend worked out a plea deal, and received two 35-year sentences. Their crimes were identical - they were both standing in the room when the gunman opened fire.

When they went before the parole board, the 70-year sentence was put off one time, then paroled. The lifer went before the board multiple times before being paroled many years later. The official reason was "seriousness of the offense."

What is needed is an objective parole system, and not a subjective one. Another great area of parole abuse is the "victim's rights" issue. Anyone seeking parole who has a protester is extremely unlikely to make parole. Victims have a chance to complain at the sentencing hearing, but they get another go at it in parole hearings,

As an example, I committed murder in 1974. My first parole hearing was in 1993. It took nine hearings, twenty-one more years and the retirement of the parole board chairman before I was granted parole - all because of a protester.

I'm now 64 years old, and spent 39 years in prison. I am having great difficulty in finding employment - most employers don't want to hire violent offenders, regardless of the time that has passed. Since I was in prison all that time, I'm not eligible for social security or retirement. When is the punishment supposed to stop?

 
These letters written in response to
Justice Lab March 4, 2015
No, freeing potheads and shoplifters is not enough.