Readers React

Jerry Brown gets religious about parole for 'lifers'

To the editor: In the story reporting that more "lifers" are being paroled from prison, with an increasing number being re-incarcerated after their release, it is stated that Gov. Jerry Brown has allowed parole for 1,963 inmates serving life sentences, more than were released by the four governors before him. ("As more inmates are released from prison, more parolees return," Dec. 27)

Brown defends his decisions on the basis of religion: "I have been brought up in the Holy Roman Catholic Apostolic Church, and redemption is at the very core of that religion."

How arrogant is this man to think that his religious beliefs should be the basis of governing our state, that his belief in redemption is enough to allow convicted murderers to go free? How insulting this is to the juries that sent these offenders to prison for life.

Linda Mann, Los Angeles

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To the editor: The article observes that of the 1,963 "lifers" paroled under Gov. Jerry Brown's administration, 33 returned "to prison or jail" after being "accused" of various offenses, whereas according to a study we conducted, of 860 lifers released from 1995 to 2010, five were returned to prison "for new felony charges."

A reader may be given the wrong impression that the recidivism rate for lifer parolees has roughly tripled. The 33 mixes those returned for technical parole violations with those convicted of new crimes — indeed, one of the article's examples is a parolee who absconded from supervision (a parole violation).

By contrast, our study refers to parolees convicted of new felonies.

Thus, while any instance of a parolee violating the conditions of parole is unfortunate, any critique of parole policy requires a consistent definition of recidivism.

Moreover, the suggestion that the recidivism rate for lifer parolees warrants worry is misguided. Even if we use the broader definition of recidivism to get to 33 new returnees under Brown, a 1.7% recidivism rate is one any department of corrections and rehabilitation would envy.

Robert Weisberg and Debbie Mukamal, Stanford, Calif.

Weisberg is a professor at Stanford Law School; Mukamal is executive director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center.

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