TOUGH ON CRIME, SOFT ON LAW

by Julian Heicklen

In Pennsylvania, a convict receives a minimum and a maximum sentence. If he makes good progress toward rehabilitation, presumably he will be paroled at or near his minimum sentence. If he does not make good progress, he will serve his maximum or nearly his maximum sentence. For a sex offender to be eligible for parole, he must complete a sex-offender treatment program. The problem is that the offenders have difficulty getting placed in these programs. Below are stories from two inmates at the State Correctional Institute at Mercer.

Bob Walls BJ­9898

On November 18, 1996, Mr. Walls wrote a request to find out why he was not being placed in a sex offender treatment program. He received the following reply from R. Dunstan:

The memo to which Mr. Dunstan refers was written by him, reviewed by V. Shaffer, and dated April 15, 1996. It reads in part:

Troy C. Snyder DE­2704

Mr. Snyder writes in a request dated October 29, 1997, that his minimum date for release is January 24, 1999. He would not like to serve his maximum sentence and requests that he be placed in the next Intro group. Mr. Dunstan's response was: "See attached memo. You are on the list." The memo was written on September 8, 1997, by Mr. Dunstan, and reads in totality:

Correspondence with Commissioner Martin Horn

I sent the two memos from Mr. Dunstan to several state legislators, with a cover letter, for comment. (Commissioner Horn of the Department of Corrections does not answer correspondence from me.) In my letter I stated:

The failure to provide sex offender programs leads to three problems:

Senator J. Doyle Corman forwarded my letter to Commissioner Horn and requested that he reply to the points that I raised. Commissioner Horn's response to Senator Corman was, in part:

I replied to Senator Corman as follows:

"Commissioner Horn's position is that he knows better than the judges or the Parole Board about how much time an inmate should serve. He may be right. However for him to enforce his judgment tramples on the law."