Monday, January 09, 2012

Times-Dispatch editorial: 'George Allen was right to abolish parole'

One of the most popular governors in Virginia history, getting a handle on violent crime was high on the priority list for George Allen when he ran for governor in 1993, and abolishing parole was one of  his main goals. Allen considered it a way to protect the citizens of  the Commonwealth from the early release of violent criminals but he encountered a battle from naysayers who were against it from the start.

In Friday's editorial, the Richmond Times-Dispatch wrote about the response at that time:
At the time, though, it was hugely controversial. Democrats fought it bitterly. The NAACP tried to portray it as hostile to African-Americans -- the Richmond chapter went so far as to say it resembled "Hitler's annihilation of the Jews and the principle of modern-day ethnic cleansing." The ACLU attacked it on a variety of grounds, including cost -- a rare detour into fiscal conservatism for the civil-liberties group -- and its effect on children and families.
But there was another side of the issue.  Crime victims and survivors shared heart-wrenching details of their encounters with criminals, speaking of their experiences to show support for Allen's proposal.

Less than a year after winning the gubernatorial election, Allen fulfilled this major campaign promise and signed the Abolition of Parole statute into law on October 13, 1994. At the time he commented:
“With my signature on this legislation, we are sending an unmistakable message to criminals or those thinking of committing criminal activity: Do not commit crime in Virginia. We will no longer tolerate it. And we will no longer excuse it. We’re going to hold criminals responsible and accountable for their violent acts. And it is high time that these principles are restored to our justice system here in Virginia. By taking violent predators off the street and keeping them off, we will begin to reclaim our communities from crime. In doing this we will create an environment where hope can be restored, where businesses and jobs can return, where schools can again be places of learning, and where neighborhoods can be places for families rather than felons.”
The result of the new legislation was the lowest crime rate in the Commonwealth in a decade, with criminals serving longer prison sentences. Even today, Virginia's violent crime rate remains among the lowest in the country at a time when the national recidivism rate is 43 percent compared to 28 percent in the Commonwealth.

Now roll forward to 2011 -- 17 years after the parole law took effect -- and the news of a horrific crime that took place in Richmond on Christmas Eve. The Times-Dispatch editorial noted:
We come now to Jamal Louis Clemons, the suspect in a double homicide committed on Christmas Eve. As a news story noted, Clemons has an extensive criminal record that includes arrests for larceny, drug possession, child endangerment, trespassing, eluding police, probation violations and more. On Dec. 23 he was released from a Hanover jail, where he had served time for probation violations. Within 24 hours, he allegedly had killed two people. Had Clemons served more time, Edward Lee Bowmer and Rhonda Sheryl Clapp would be alive today.

At least, they would be alive according to Allen's theory that locking up career criminals prevents crime. According to Allen's critics, it wouldn't matter if Clemons had stayed behind bars — because someone else would have killed Bowmer and Clapp anyway. Allen's theory might not be perfect. But it is better than his critics' theories, which have proven to be perfect nonsense.
Indeed. In short, the Times-Dispatch agreed that George Allen was right to abolish parole.

No comments: