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Sudden releases raise questions about inmates' futures

Posted October 19, 2009

— Only one of the violent North Carolina criminals set for release next week will have official supervision outside prison, and the state is rushing to establish community connections to transition them back to society.

Nine of the convicts will be immediately free of the state's watch when they are released Oct. 29 in the wake of court rulings on a 1970s law that limited the length of life sentences from that era.

N.C. inmates to go free under old law Future uncertain for soon-to-be-free inmates

Ten others are sex offenders who will have to register with the state and abide by laws limiting their activity but will not have regular contact with correction officials.

One of the convicts, Faye Brown, faces two decades of federal parole.

Department of Correction spokesman Keith Acree said Monday all the prisoners plan to stay with family, friends or in transitional housing.

He said the state is also going through a crash course to get the convicts ready for public life, reaching out to community groups who could help them find jobs or provide support.

Each will be given the name and phone number for a probation and parole officer that can be used as a resource, but those officers won't have any legal role in their lives.

"It's going to be a shock period, just for that moment that they get acclimated," said Robert Battle, a former convict who served 12 years in prison for a drug conspiracy conviction.

He now counsels former offenders on job and life skills for the Raleigh nonprofit Step Up Ministry.

"A lot of them still haven't learned what the appropriate way to become a success as far as being self sufficient is," he said. "If a person goes into the penal system without a great education, without great support and family, and you're returning back to society – I do not think a job and a home alone is the answer."

The group set to be released is made up primarily of murderers and rapists, some of whom targeted young girls. Seven were once on death row.

Three criminals – Alford Jones, James Pone and Manley Porter – have been involved in the DOC's pre-release program called Mutual Agreement Parole Program.

A state Senate amendment passed in 2005 requires the state to enroll at least 20 percent of eligible inmates into the program and guarantees that an offender will get out on parole if he or she satisfactorily completes the program. The primary reason for the program is to rehabilitate offenders and to help control the prison population.

"Some of these people are going to get out, and we think they will probably do fine in the community," Acree said. "But there are others, we've got concerns about. They'll probably have trouble and probably commit some new crimes."

The state is notifying local law enforcement about the releases, but that's as far as officials can go to keep tabs on the inmates.

It's another legal quandary that state attorneys have encountered.

One of the inmates, Bobby Bowden, had pointed to a law in place for several years in the 1970s that appears to describe a life sentence as only 80 years long. He said a variety of credits that prisoners can apply to their sentences mean his time behind bars is now complete.

The Attorney General's office argued before the Supreme Court last month that the law was "ambiguous," but justices were clearly unconvinced, grilling the state's attorneys with questions.

"This is such a straightforward issue from a legal point of view, it's too easy for a first-year law exam," said Staples Hughes, the state appellate defender, whose office handled Bowden's appeal. He said the state has had every chance to come up with an argument to keep the inmates behind bars but has not been able to.

Gov. Beverly Perdue's office continues to hope there may be a legal avenue to prevent the release. But attorneys for the state don't seem to know what that would be.

"Our lawyers certainly argued everything they could think of to stop this from happening, and the North Carolina Supreme Court does have the final say," said Noelle Talley, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Roy Cooper.

State officials believe dozens more inmates convicted three decades ago could soon be eligible for release.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • Myra Oct 21, 2009

    Roy T. Cooper's Spokeswoman can say whatever she wants but it is a fact that under Cooper's leadership in the DOJ, hundreds of criminals, rapists, murderers, child sex offenders, are RELEASED - paroled back into the public every month. Twenty (20) more released felons really isn't anything new. A "released" sex offender in NC, (James C. Morrison, Jr.) was just accused 2 days ago of beating a 4 year old boy to death.

  • ladyblue Oct 20, 2009

    no problem...just send them to the judge's house who found it in his best interest to release them.... this mess is making national news and other people across the country are laughing and mocking NC.

  • NCAries Oct 20, 2009

    This is disgusting and EVERYONE should be outraged.

    Why?...people now days only feel outrage when whatever is going on touches them or their group...otherwise to hell with the rest...not in my neighborhood, not in my school, not on my street, not in my state....either you want to respect the laws and lawmakers or you don't...can't have it both ways.

  • NCAries Oct 20, 2009

    One of these people were guilty of 18 infractions while in prison. How are they justifying release for good conduct?

    Any of those infractions could be caused by an a-hole officer just messing with someone cause they can or a short timer inciting a long timer and the inmate having no other recourse but to take the punishment...segregation, taking away of privileges. There's abuse behind the wall too you know. Never been there, heard a lot of stories from people who have.

  • nccowbo Oct 20, 2009

    WHO are the legislators that passed this law, we the tax payer gave them HUGE money to do the right thing. NOW it is time for them to fix what they were paid to do, keep us safe.

  • EZeegoing Oct 20, 2009

    Look at it this way. Early release from prison, no education, criminal record, convicted felon - who is going to hire these ex-cons?? They will continue to be a burden on society by drawing welfare and eventually return to a life of crime to keep up with their other gun toting friends.

  • FoxtrotUniformCharlieKiloakaCALM Oct 20, 2009

    I do not get premium cable and miss that show...why can't writers still be on strike? SME2

    RaceCard Balker

    netflix with an x360 is even better

  • shortcake53 Oct 20, 2009

    This is by far the stupidist idea i have ever heard. Its like the inmates running the asylum. Every single person in this state ( and surrounding states) are in mortal danger the instant these convicts are released. I guarantee you we hear of some horrible crime committed shortly after they are set free. They were sentenced to life for a reason, and that reason didnt just simply vanish. Its bad enough we have to protect ourselves from those that have not been caught yet, now we have to worry about the ones being set free too. Thanks a lot to those to screwed up the laws, way to protect us.

  • jgriffith3792 Oct 20, 2009

    they have paid their debt to society. -- jafarmg2

    They have paid their debt? How so? Why don't you ask their victims, or for those that were murdered, ask their family if the "debt" has been paid?

    As far being written up by a "malicous guard" or for doing "nothing", if its unfair and you don't want to have to endure that - DON'T GO TO JAIL! Pretty simple.

    BTW, like how all the "infractions" you listed are caused by someone else or circumstances. As posted earlier, when these convicts mess up some bleeding heart will point out its always the fault of someone else and not the criminal. Thank you for proving my point.

  • Here kitty kitty Oct 20, 2009

    After Sun's N&O article I'm not concerned about Ms. Brown; I'm worried about the others. I don't like what the guy on tv said last night about the fact they are in their 50's & 60's and we pretty much shouldn't be concerned. Why not? They are murderers, rapists. If you are one of those who say "they've served, let'em out" then be a good citizen and rent them a room in YOUR HOUSE.