Pa. parole board defends its record after 6 homicides linked to parolees

Of the five men charged with murder this summer, only two had been incarcerated for violent offenses against a person, and all demonstrated “positive adjustment,” according to the department


By Samantha Melamed
The Philadelphia Inquirer

LANCASTER, Pa. — On July 19, police responding to a home in Lancaster arrested Joseph Sterbinsky in the fatal stabbing of his sister and his niece.

Sterbinsky, who also is accused of stabbing his nephew, had been released from a Pennsylvania state prison on parole in March 2017 — making him one of five men on Pennsylvania parole to be charged with homicide in the space of just 10 days.

On Wednesday, the Department of Corrections released its review of those parole decisions. “Our review identified no evidence of misconduct or policy or rule violations that would have reasonably affected the outcomes in these cases,” Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said in a statement, noting that the parole rate for those convicted of violent crimes has declined in recent years, and rearrest rates overall remain stable.

Of the five men charged with murder this summer, only two had been incarcerated for violent offenses against a person, and all demonstrated “positive adjustment,” according to the department. Wetzel called the events a horrendous “outlier.”

“When you contextualize this, and you look at the overall number of people on supervision, and the number of these bad events, you’re looking at one-quarter of 1% of people on state parole accused of murder or attempted murder," he said. "That number has been flat — but I’m still confident we can reduce that.”

The department’s review did not satisfy the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association, which called for an independent review and urged the parole board to “slow down” the parole process until such a review can be completed.

“The department’s contention that the number of murders allegedly committed by parolees has been consistent isn’t a defense; it’s a condemnation of a system that is letting too many violent criminals out of prison and putting Pennsylvanians at risk," Larry Blackwell, president of the union, said in a statement.

The report did identify what Wetzel said are crucial policy changes to moving forward, including better information-sharing with law enforcement agencies and a formal policy around reviewing critical incidents.

“When you have people under supervision and bad events happen, I think there’s a need to review it,” he said.

The department will also put in place new training staff to supervise parole agents, create a database of parolees that can be accessed by local law enforcement, and work with county district attorneys to clarify when to detain accused parolees facing new charges.

More immediately, Wetzel said, he has ordered a review of all active parole cases, and about 800 people have already been placed on a higher level of supervision as a result of that review.

There are currently 41,459 people under state parole supervision. Of those, about 6,300 were arrested last year, about three-quarters of them for nonviolent offenses; 102 were charged with murder or attempted murder.

©2019 The Philadelphia Inquirer

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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