Ten years ago, Robert “Mudman” Simon won parole from Pennsylvania’s Graterford Prison on a murder conviction and moved to New Jersey. Within three months, he was arrested for shooting and killing a police officer. Since then, says the Philadelphia Inquirer, Pennsylvania has made its parole system tougher and, most would say, better by setting clear criteria for releasing convicts before their maximum sentences are served. It also has helped increase Pennsylvania’s record prison population. Some say that it has made it harder for offenders to get out and stay out, and that Pennsylvania convicts serve some of the longest terms in the country.
“Mudman Simon put a big chill on the operation of our entire prison system, most noticeably in the area of parole,” said William DiMascio of the Pennsylvania Prison Society. In the last year before Mudman’s crime, 72 percent of Pennsylvania prisoners eligible and applying for parole got it. In the first full year after, 38 percent of paroles were granted. The figure has crept back up to 56 percent. Prison population in 1995 was about 32,000. The total is now more than 41,000, an increase of 28 percent, and the Department of Corrections budget is about $1.35 billion. Pennsylvania is one of a few states that does not reward inmates with reduced sentences for good behavior, and its “life means life” policy means no hope of parole for life sentences. M.L. Ebert, president of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, credits the drop in paroles with keeping down the state’s rates of violent crime. Ernie Preate, the former state attorney general who himself served a federal prison sentence for mail fraud, said that “all states have had a drop-off in crime” over the same period.