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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Temple professor ponders role in Phila. parole review

The Temple University professor who hastily accepted Gov. Rendell's request Monday to conduct a "top-to-bottom" review of Pennsylvania's parole system knows very little about the new assignment or how long it will take to complete.

John S. Goldkamp, head of Temple's criminal-justice department, said yesterday that he planned to focus on how other states release violent offenders into society and whether those practices can be used here.

Rendell asked Goldkamp to take on the task in the wake of the second slaying in four months of a city police officer by a paroled felon.

Goldkamp said yesterday that he did not yet know what his budget is, whether he can hire consultants, or his deadline. He did not even know until he read about it in yesterday's newspapers that Rendell had put a hold on all early prison releases until Goldkamp gets his job done. Each month, about 1,000 prisoners typically are released on parole from Pennsylvania's prisons.

"That makes for a lot of pressure," Goldkamp said. "I have the pressure of knowing that to some extent, our work is holding up the release of some people who are fully prepared to be released."

As part of the review, Goldkamp said he would examine the cases of the parolees who gunned down Sgt. Patrick McDonald last week and Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski in May. But he stressed yesterday that he was "not interested in finding blame, although that seems to be the environment right now."

Instead, he added, he plans to "look at the process of the system, and its strengths and weaknesses and what might be done to make it better."

Rendell contacted Goldkamp on Monday afternoon, hours after the Fraternal Order of Police and Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey called on the state to declare a moratorium on paroles pending a systematic review.

Speaking outside McDonald's funeral yesterday, John J. McNesby, president of FOP Lodge 5, expressed gratitude for Rendell's quick action.

"It seems like there's some light at the end of the tunnel, when the governor agreed to do that yesterday," said McNesby. "He's doing the right thing, and that means a lot for the cops on the street."

Goldkamp, a nationally recognized expert on corrections and parole issues, said he expected to meet with Rendell administration officials soon to set the scope of the review and other logistics, including a time frame.

The last time he was hired to do a systemwide review was in 2005, when he examined crowding in Philadelphia's prisons.

That review took a year to complete, he said, adding, "This won't take a year." [Mark Godsey]

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