The Revolving Door

Some parolees face a run-on sentence.

For a chronic parole problem like Gamal, the implications of the new law are staggering. He could end up serving his entire mandatory parole period behind bars, come out, fail to complete twelve months of post-parole supervision -- and go back inside for another twelve months. Then come out again, go back, come out, go back...until the parole board eventually tires of seeing him.

"It's an illegal sentence," Gamal says. "I don't see any way to ever get through it."

Gamal is hardly alone in his complaints. "It's like going to the hospital, thinking you got a clean bill of health -- and then as you're walking out the door, they say, 'Oh, by the way, you've got cancer,'" says Rudy, a 33-year-old parolee who's now doing his post-parole time. "I screwed up on parole, but my punishment was to go back to prison and do day-for-day -- which I did, for 21 months. The judge didn't say nothing about doing this extra year."

The out leads in: Atif Gamal figures it's just a matter of 
time until he's behind bars again.
John Johnston
The out leads in: Atif Gamal figures it's just a matter of time until he's behind bars again.

As in Gamal's case, Rudy's slide into the system started out with a relatively minor felony, complicated by chronic substance abuse. A drummer with a death-metal band, he was charged with criminal trespass after playing a gig in a warehouse without the owner's permission. Hot UAs turned his probation into a two-year prison stretch, with two years of mandatory parole. He spent ten months inside, ten months in a halfway house and three months on parole before being revoked for drinking. Result: 21 more months in prison -- and now another year of post-parole supervision to go.

The protracted sentence strikes Rudy as more than slightly insane. "Here I am, a nonviolent guy -- yeah, I have a problem with substance abuse, but I went to rehab -- and they want to keep me on paper. Okay, I'm going to do it their way. But it's causing me great distress, financially and otherwise, and it's just costing them more money, too."

Parole officers point out that violators are rarely revoked for a single dirty UA or minor miscue; often, even a seemingly petty violation such as the failure to report a change of address is an indication of a return to more serious criminal activity. Still, some officers aren't big fans of the post-parole law, which adds to their caseloads folks who've already demonstrated a flair for violating parole -- and which was passed without any appropriation to cover the added costs it would incur.

The DOC estimates that post-parole supervision costs the state an additional $1.7 million a year. But that estimate is based on the starry-eyed assumption that the parolees involved will complete their year without further revocations. And that seems unlikely, particularly in the case of someone like Atif Gamal.

Two weeks ago, the General Assembly passed a package of legislation aimed at cutting prison costs. One of the bills, SB 252, will give the parole board greater flexibility in placing nonviolent parole violators in community-corrections programs rather than sending them back to prison. The bill also abolishes the post-parole supervision whammy.

Although a major victory for reformers, the bill will do little to alleviate Gamal's situation. For a time after his release last January, it appeared that he was getting some of the assistance he was seeking to move out on his own and live independently. But then things began to unravel.

With his parole officer's blessing, Gamal moved out of the 11th Avenue Hotel. He started receiving disability payments again and talked to his daughter in California about a possible visit. Staffers at the Inmann Work and Family Center urged him to make use of their mental-health services. His parole officer insisted on it.

But Gamal became increasingly uncooperative. He doesn't have anything against the Inmann Center -- "I think it's the only part of the system that's really doing anything to help people," he says -- but he doesn't want the government poking around in his head. He doesn't see why he should be forced to serve this post-parole jolt, which he regards as illegal. Maybe guys like Rudy can just play the game, get it over with, but he refuses to do that.

There were problems at his new hotel, problems with his drug tests. One came back positive for cough syrup, another for cocaine.

"There was a period of three days -- I guess you could say I was trying to get my freak on," Gamal says. "I associated with two women. One was a registered guest of the hotel, the other was a friend of hers I smuggled through the window. I was in a car with them while they were passing a pipe back and forth. But, no, I didn't have any."

Facing parole demands that he enter a rehab program, Gamal quietly left his hotel in late April. He has not bothered to report his new address. This is all part of "a conscious effort on my part to adjust my own behavior," he says. He plans to live a quiet, sober life until The Man comes around to pick him up.

"Eventually these people are going to put me back in prison," he says. "Then a year from now, I'll be out and going through the same thing again. That's complete political folly."

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