PA Corrections Officers Association calls for investigation into commonwealth’s parole system

HARRISBURG, Pa. --- Troubled by crimes committed by former inmates released on parole, the state Corrections Officers Association has called for an investigation into the Pennsylvania parole system.

In two months, six Pennsylvanians on parole have allegedly been involved in violent crimes, including homicide charges against 56-year-old James Sterbinsky in Lancaster County and 33-year-old Calvin Purdie in Dauphin County.

Larry Blackwell, president of the state corrections officers association, believes that the parole process has become too mechanical and paperwork-oriented, leaving corrections officers and parole officers without a voice or say.

"I think they need to take in consideration the human factor of the corrections officers and how you've adjusted to living inside the prison and also take the recommendation of the parole officers on the street and they feel like you're a threat to society, you should be locked back up," Blackwell said.

State Rep. Seth Grove (R-York County) adds that it's a "good thing" to investigate agencies within the commonwealth.

He said it's an issue that could "possibly" go under the scope of the state House Government Oversight Committee, a bipartisan committee formed in January.

"Was there something within our law that made that happen that we have to go back and take a look," he said. "Are these isolated incidents? Or is this a larger issue that we really need to focus on. I think they're all legitimately policy questions that general assembly do."

State Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel issued this statement on the uptick in violent crimes by parolees:

"Any violent crime, especially murder, whether committed by a parolee or any other person, is a tragedy.  We are reviewing the parolees' histories both while in state prison and while under parole supervision to determine if all procedures and processes were properly followed. We expect our review to indicate if any changes are necessary or if there were any missteps in this process. If so, we will work swiftly to address.

State Sen. Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia) issued the following statement about the situation:

“Every murder is real. We have seen countless murdered across the commonwealth by diverse parties over a sustained period of time. The Pittsburgh Squirrel Hill massacre, the single deadliest anti-Semitic terrorist attack on American soil that resulted in the deaths of 11 Jewish worshipers, 8 youth shot at the same event at a basketball game in West Philadelphia. As governmental leaders we must examine these recent deaths as well as a culture of violence that persists, exasperated by a distinct lack of firearm regulation which has resulted in an epidemic of death that continues to grip our communities throughout the commonwealth. “

Rep. Grove said the House Government Oversight Committee would need a House Resolution directing them to do so or a referral from the Speaker of the House, Majority Leader or Minority Leader in order to launch an investigation.

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