Andrew Dys

Bringing an end to parole may be the right idea

When S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster announced he wanted to abolish parole last week, so many people who have rarely or never been in a courtroom weighed in. Most haven't left their desk since 1998, except for lunch.

In years covering courts for this newspaper, I watched weeping victims try and ask judges to throw the book at rapists, thieves and everything in between. Some victims were so distraught they had to read prepared statements.

I have listened to family members ask for long sentences or the death penalty when the victim couldn't be there himself because he was stabbed or shot to death.

I have seen mothers and fathers of defendants beg for mercy. Those defendants sometimes beg, too. Sometimes, they say nothing.

I have been to the parole hearings where a victim or his family asks the state parole board to keep a defendant in jail, and the defendant's supporters say he is ready for another chance.

It is brutal. Judges, such as York County's well-respected, and deservedly so, Lee Alford and John C. Hayes III, have told defendants in courts many times: "The hardest part of being a judge is sentencing."

There are two important questions McMaster raises: Will this mean more prisons in a state that already has one of the country's highest percentages of its population in prison? If so, is that what our state is all about, putting more people in jail, or figuring out how to keep them out in the first place?

And will victims and their families finally know the real sentence somebody will serve?

For serious violent crimes, murders and the like, anything carrying 20 or more years in prison, offenders already must serve 85 percent of the sentence. Those are called "no-parole" offenses in your courts every single day.

But for lesser crimes, some offenders can get out on parole after about a third of the sentence.

One person in York, Chester or Lancaster counties who will be a part of the early debate of this legislative bill that could come up next year is Greg Delleney, a Chester Republican who used to be a Democrat. Delleney, a lawyer by trade, is on the House Judiciary Committee. He has defended many, many people who were sentenced with the possibility, but no guarantee, of parole.

He and a few others will decide if this idea ever makes it to a full vote. He said there is a good chance this measure will pass, not just through committee, but into law.

Delleney said this measure means truth in sentencing.

"If the judge wants somebody to do five (years), the sentence will really be five," Delleney said. "Everybody in the courtroom will understand that. The judge, the prosecutor, the defense lawyer, and the defendant. And yes, the victims will know, too."

Sure sounds logical.

Leland Greeley, the Rock Hill lawyer who is president of the S.C. Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said his organization will not take a position on the parole issue because punishment is determined by the Legislature, not lawyers. Further, lawyers cannot, ethically, tell clients anybody will get out early on parole.

One important thing McMaster points out is nonviolent offenders need drug courts and similar measures instead of long stretches in the penitentiary. Delleney said that part of the equation is crucial to no-parole working.

It may be true that McMaster wants to be governor. If successful, McMaster can run for governor and say he was the one who ended parole in our state.

I sure wish that somebody would run for any office and say they are the one who figured out how to abolish what caused South Carolina to need to put so many people in prison, or abolish ranking last in the country in school test scores. That guy would get my vote.