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Online petition aims to derail loosening of parole eligibility

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

ONLY ON CLIFFVIEW PILOT : When Gov. Corzine returns from a Swiss vacation, he’ll find a stack of letters, a flood of emails and an online petition insisting he not sign a bill into law that would make rapists and murderers eligible for parole hearings no later than three years after they’ve been denied release.


To sign the petition, go to : GOV. CORZINE: DO NOT SIGN A4201 or A4202
Schroeder (l.) with the Montelaros before Righetti’s hearing
( EXCLUSIVE PROPERTY OF CLIFFVIEW PILOT )


“We need to keep up the pressure on Governor Corzine and urge him not to sign bills A4201 (which calls for a “blue ribbon panel” to review–and possible release–long term prisoners) and A4202 (which mandates a new parole hearing every three years after the initial denial),” said Assemblyman Bob Schroeder (left).

Here’s a copy of Schroeder’s OFFICIAL STATEMENT

“There’s momentum now,” added Rosemarie D’Alessandro, whose grade-school daughter was killed by a man who could benefit from the so-called Inmates’ Bill of Rights.

“More people are getting involved. It’s growing,” she told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “I don’t think the governor knows what’s waiting for him.”

(See: Opponents of hush-hush parole bills corner Corzine )

“I don’t understand it,” said Tony Montelaro,  whose daughter was butchered by another potential beneficiary.

“Last fall was the third time we went through that experience,” Montelaro told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “What we don’t need is a repeat of this every three years.”

The 70-something couple came up to Trenton from their Florida, appealed to the Parole Board to keep Christopher Righetti behind bars, then returned emotionally spent — but grateful that the man who abducted and butchered Kim Montelaro would remain imprisoned long enough so they’d never make the trip again. (See: Parole denied for honor student’s killer )

Then, from out of the blue, came the new provision, included at the 11th hour in a trio of bills passed without comment by both houses of a lame-duck Legislature in Trenton earlier this week.

Media reports made no mention of the three-year hook — or of the creation of a “blue ribbon” panel that would consider whether anyone who has already served more than 20 years in state prison be considered for release.

But CLIFFVIEW PILOT read the measures in detail, noticed that late additions had been made before the measures hit the floors of both houses in Trenton on Monday, and pointed out the changes. (See: Bills quietly OK’d by NJ lawmakers could parole killers sooner )

Since then, D’Alessandro said, a movement has been growing. (See: Pressure on Corzine to squelch parole bills )

Schroeder, who is also a Washington Township councilman, galvanized members of KeepBergenSafe.com, an advocacy group that actively supported the Montelaros last year in opposing Righetti’s release. Now the group is conducting a letter-writing and e-mail campaign, with plans to flood Corzine’s office. Included will be the petition, posted Friday.

Schroeder called the three-year provision an “outrage” that all but guarantees the loved ones of murder victims will never find closure. Freedom would also be possible within the next year or two for, among others, Joseph McGowan, who raped and murdered grade-school Girl Scout Joan D’Alessandro, and the remorseless Righetti, he said. (See: New lawmaker calls 11th-hour parole breaks an “outrage” )

“For me, this is not a matter of politics,” Schroeder told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “It is about protecting the rights and well-being of victims and their families. “We cannot let this happen.”

“Both of these bills would negatively impact the Montelaro family, as well as thousands of victims and their families across the State of New Jersey,” the assemblyman said. “They’ve suffered enough, and we need to let them know that their community is there for them.”

Proponents see the measures as positive steps toward keeping fewer ex-cons from returning to prison by creating more opportunities. No mention was made of the fact that even straight arrows are having trouble finding work these days, and little was said about the $6 million price tag.

“While there may be some parts of the legislation that make sense from a public policy perspective, the costs related to these measures are something New Jersey simply cannot afford,” said Assemblyman Jon Bramnick (R-Union).

The measures call for, among other things, mandatory workforce skills education and training; time served as “credits” for achievements in the classroom; and allowances for visits to other prisons to help “motivate and assist” other convicts.

However, the last-minute additions include a cap “at a maximum of three years, the length of time that the parole board can require an inmate denied release to serve before having another hearing.

“Currently, the board must develop a schedule of future parole eligibility dates for adult inmates denied release at their eligibility date.  The schedule places particular emphasis on the severity of the offense for which the inmate was denied parole and on the characteristics of the offender,” Bill A4202 says.

What’s more, the bill requires that state officials “enter into formal parole contract agreements with individual parolees or inmates which stipulate that if the affected parolee or inmate successfully fulfills the educational, training or other terms of the agreement, the parolee’s term of parole will be reduced or the inmate’s primary parole eligibility date will be moved up.”

The key sponsor, Assembly Majority Leader Bonnie Watson Coleman, knows how difficult it is overcoming a criminal past:

Eight years ago, two of her sons were sent to prison after pleading guilty to first-degree armed robbery in the heist of a Kids ”R” Us clothing store just a few miles from the Statehouse. William Carter-Watson and Jared C. Coleman both were released in January 2008 after serving six years each of maximum seven-year sentences, according to the New Jersey Department of Corrections.

By giving non-violent convicts a leg up, she argues, the state could prevent them from returning to prison. What Watson-Coleman can’t explain is why violent rapists, murderers and others needed to be included.


What can YOU do?
*  Sign the petition: CLICK HERE
*  Call Gov. Corzine’s Office: 609-292-6000. Mention CLIFFVIEWPILOT.COM .
*  Email form:
http://www.state.nj.us/governor/about/contact/



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