Surprise – NC Criminals Get Weekends at Home
Senator Thom Goolsby
There are 149 convicted criminals who are supposed to be serving their time in North Carolina prisons, but get to go home for weekend visits. These defendants have been convicted of every crime imaginable. They include murderers given life sentences, at least one cop killer, kidnappers, drug traffickers, habitual felons, robbers and various violent criminals.
These convicted felons can sleep in their own beds or stay in a hotel, play golf, go to movies and eat out. Their ranks include a number of notable criminals, including: Raymond Cook, the former doctor who killed a ballerina in Raleigh while driving drunk; Lee Hatch and Chad Lee, two former lawyers who obstructed justice and altered numerous DWI court records in Johnston County; Cassie Johnson, confessed killer of Raleigh police Officer D.D. “Jimmy” Adams; Robert Pollard who executed a 17 year-old girl and a 23 year-old man, shooting each in the head and then dismembering and burning their bodies; Scott Quillen, convicted of murder and first-degree burglary, just to name a few.
Kimberly Overton, Chief Resource Prosecutor for the NC Conference of District Attorneys, discovered the existence of this program. After numerous record requests, the Conference of DAs was able to get the list of prisoners receiving home leaves.
As strange as it may sound, the Department of Corrections’ Division of Prisons has a long-standing policy regarding home leaves. The Division’s policy and procedure manual states the reasoning behind the program: “The purpose of home leaves is for inmates who are nearing release to re-establish family relationships and community socialization in preparation for their transition back into the community.” When the policy is further explored, the extent of eligibility for home leaves dwarfs understanding – anyone within 12 months of release or who are “parole eligible” can qualify. Under the old Fair Sentencing law, inmates can meet the criteria if they are simply within 12 months of having a parole hearing, even if the inmate is never likely to be released or has been denied parole.
How long can home leave go on? According to his own website, BringScottHome.com, convicted murderer Scott Quillen claims he has been leaving prison on home passes for nearly two years (note: it is unknown how long ago Quillen posted this statement). Incidentally, Quillen, who has been in jail since 1991, was married in 2011 and has three children. For the record, the innocent murder victim Derold Ledford remains dead, maintains no website and his family has no chance to spend time with him.
Who in their right mind created this program? When juries convict criminals and judges hand down verdicts, no one ever considers that the criminals would rate home leave, possibly years before a sentence is complete.
It is true that in the past, when inmates were released, they were simply and unceremoniously dumped on the streets. Perhaps this old and unwise release method gave rise to the home leave policy. It may have made some sense for a few nonviolent offenders, but never with violent criminals and murderers serving life sentences.
With changes made two years ago in the Justice Reinvestment Act, inmates now have nine months of post release supervision. The new requirement assigns a probation officer to oversee an inmate’s transition back into society. With this oversight, the offender is monitored and provided with all of the current support services available. Post release supervision offers a strong argument that, even if home leave made sense for some inmates in the past, it is NOT needed now.
The North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys recently sent a letter to the Governor asking him to stop the home leave program. Hopefully, now that this dirty little secret is out in the open, home leave will end and the criminals will be kept behind bars where they belong.
Thom Goolsby is a state senator, practicing attorney and law professor. He is a chairman of the Senate Judiciary 1 and Justice and Public Safety Committees.