When convicted murderer Robert Lee was released from prison about three weeks ago, he was supposed to come to Backstreet Mission to live. Lee was convicted of murdering Bloomington resident Ellen Marks in 1986, and many Bloomington residents, including the shelter’s directors, were uncomfortable with Lee’s return.
Indiana Parole Board Vice-Chair Randy Gentry says that is the case for many communities, but the decision is entirely up to Corrections officials. Gentry says they were following standard procedure with Lee.
“Very rarely does a parole board get involved in the actual placement of an offender,” he says. “It’s typically a Department of Corrections function when a person releases from prison, they typically go back to the place where they committed the crime. I should say, where they’re sentenced.”
Other than that DOC practice, there is no law or procedure that dictates what happens when released prisoners cannot find a place to live after serving time. Indiana University criminal justice professor Bill Head says with an increasing number of people going to prison, that means more communities are going to be unprepared to provide the right services to prisoners when they get out.
“You know we want to be protected from the offender, so we put them away, we warehouse them, but we don’t recognize they’re coming back,” he says. “Unless they die in prison or we execute them in prison, which is less than 5 percent of the prison population, they’re all coming back somewhere.”
Head also questions whether the criminal justice system has a good way of knowing whether people coming out of prison are really ready to be back in society after serving time.
Robert Lee has been placed in the Indianapolis Parole District and will serve one year of parole there.