Robert Lee Placement Illustrates Systematic Problems

The difficulty the DOC has had finding a place where a convicted killer can serve his parole demonstrates problems in the state's justice system.

offenders walk

Photo: Bill Shaw/WFIU-WTIU News

Prisoners at the Branchville Correctional Facility walk in the prison's courtyard.

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.

Julie Rawe

Julie is Assistant Producer of Noon Edition. In addition to reporting for WFIU, she also works as an intern for NPR's State of the Re:Union. She is a graduate of Indiana University where she studied French, anthropology, and African studies.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/bob.eckert.50 Bob Eckert

    It is important that we realize that in the category of criminal violence of one or more
    people to one or more persons there exists a category that includes probable organic brain defects (either induced or inherited) that are the root cause of the violence. These individuals cannot be an active part of society after their capture and conviction. We must be hyper-vigilant in not taking people out of society unless their crime has very specific characteristics. But when the person’s crime meets this standard we must as a society (if we do not condone execution) take on the cost of keeping those persons away from the general public and that means institutionalization, perhaps not in a prison, but in a new kind of setting, where they have the opportunity to atone for their crime, better themselves and live on but under our watch.

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