Can Parole Rehabilitate Convicts?

Attorney Roland Acevedo understands better than most people what happens when you break the law. "In 1978, I was convicted of a felony. I went to prison, and I spent four years in prison," he told CBS News Correspondent John Roberts.

Acevedo served time for robbery before he was let out on parole. Less than 60 days later, he committed another robbery and did five more years in prison. But a second shot at parole gave him incentive to clean up his act. "I knew I had messed up. I wanted to get back to my family, I wanted to get my life back on track," he said.

For Acevedo, getting his life back on track meant going to law school. But is this a rare success story for the parole system? Not really.

National statistics show that most offenders released on parole do well. But when criminals who violate parole go bad, they can really go bad.

A rash of crimes committed by parolees throughout communities, such as New York City, has prompted states to rethink the idea of letting nonviolent felons out early.

"It does not make sense for us to release nonviolent felons from our state prison system after serving a mere fraction of their sentence when we know, the statistics bear it out, that there is a 40 to 50 percent chance of them returning to our state prison system because they have committed a new crime," says Katherine Lapp, N.Y.S. Director of Criminal Justice.

Currently, 15 states have abolished parole or discretionary release for felons. But recently, two states, Colorado and Connecticut, reversed on their position and reinstated parole, in part because of prison overcrowding and the inability to supervise offenders once they were released.

Criminal justice professor Howard Abadinsky, a former New York City parole officer who teaches at St. Xavier University, says that while parolees do commit their share of repeat crimes, eliminating parole puts the public at greater risk.

"There is no incentive to provide proper monitoring for people who are not released by the parole board, because no one is held accountable for their release,"Abadinsky says. "The worst thing you can do in terms of community protection is to do away with parole release."

But victims like Mardy Sitzer feel threatened by that point of view. Six years ago, she was brutally attacked in her home by a parolee named Ryan Randolph. "He was kicking me, threatening me, hitting me in the head, kicking me in the side," she says.

Despite having 17 prior convictions, Randolph was released from prison on good behavior before he attacked Sitzer. He's now serving 6 to 12 years for that crime, but is up for parole again next month.

Acevedo says that he learned his lesson, thanks to his second chance. "If parole was eliminated, in my case, I would have spent more time in prison, I would have come out twice as frustrated," Acevedo says. "Could you imagine if I was still in prison? I wouldn't have had the oportunity to go to college, finish law school become a productive citizen."

Sitzer says that while Acevedo's story is encouraging, there are plenty of offenders who won't turn their lives around. She hopes her attack will force other lawmakers to think twice about parole.

Even if Sitzer's attacker isn't paroled next month, he'll still be out of prison in another two years, underscoring the point that society will eventually have to deal with released criminals one way or the other.

Reported By John Roberts