HARRISBURG -- Gov. Ed Rendell today lifted a moratorium on the parole of nonviolent inmates from state prisons, a temporary ban he'd imposed last month after a paroled inmate killed a policeman in Philadelphia.
He said that two state agencies, the Board of Probation and Parole and the Department of Corrections, would work together to decide which nonviolent inmates can be safely released.
The ban on parole was complicating the state's problem with crowding in its 27 prisons, which hold 47,500 prisoners, or about 4,500 beyond current capacity.
Mr. Rendell was under political pressure related to parole. Philadelphians were angry about the August parole of an inmate, who killed a Philadelphia policeman about a month later.
He named a Temple University official, Dr. John S. Goldkamp, to study whether nonviolent inmates could be safely paroled.
"We strongly recommend that the normal parole process . . . be restarted for nonviolent offenders (only),'' he told the governor.
Mr. Rendell said the definition of a nonviolent offender "should mean those with no history of a violent crime."
He added, "The moratorium on paroles for all violent offenders remains in effect, but it has become apparent that the focus of the review (by the two state agencies) should be on violent offenders rather than all offenders.''
However, determining which inmates are violent or nonviolent is not a simple task, said Rendell spokesman Chuck Ardo. Sometimes an inmate is in prison for a nonviolent offense, such as drug buying or selling, burglary or other crimes against property, but more serious or more violent charges had been dismissed after his arrest or plea-bargained away during his trial.
Violent crimes include such offenses as murder, assault, robbery and rape. State parole officials and prison officials will take an inmate's complete history into account before allowing him to be released on parole, Mr. Ardo said.
Corrections Department spokeswoman Susan McNaughton couldn't say today how many nonviolent prisoners will ultimately be released or when the releases will start.