Early release program under fire, ex-cons accused of crimes


by Joe Arnold


Posted on April 25, 2012 at 7:27 PM

Updated Thursday, Apr 26 at 9:49 AM

(WHAS11) -- Two of the three suspects accused of killing a 15-year-old boy in his South Louisville home earlier this month had been let out of prison early.

James Mallory was released early at the request of the Jefferson County Commonwealth Attorney's Office because he agreed to cooperate in several cases, including testimony in the John "Hot Boy" Jones attempted murder trial.

Cannon Pendergrass was released as part of Kentucky's Mandatory Reentry Supervision (MRS) early release program.  

The implementation of that program started in January, a part of House Bill 463.  The penal code reform measure, approved by the General Assembly in 2011, is best known for emphasizing treatment over incarceration for drug crimes.  But it also lets some violent crime convicts out of prison early.

"I think what is alarming to prosecutors and should be alarming to citizens is you're seeing serious violations, a lot of absconding, a capital murder charge - in the first four months," said Leland Hulbert, Asst. Commonwealth's Attorney in Jefferson County.

Pendergrass, 22, served 4 and a half years for robbery, fleeing and evading and escape convictions.  He was due to be released on September 1 this year.  But under the terms of the MRS program, Pendergrass was released six months early -- on March 1.

"Had he been released at his normal date, he obviously would not have been out to commit any criminal acts in April, 2012," Hulbert said.

Pendergrass is one of three suspects charged in the April 11 shooting death of Gregory Holt, 15, a Farnsley Middle School student.

"Here we go again," said Teri Tharpe, Holt's cousin about Pendergrass' early release.  "Here the system lets us down again."

The Kentucky Department of Corrections released a statement saying, "The death of 15-year-old Gregory Holt is a tragedy and our thoughts go out to his family."

"We can never guarantee human behavior - not with this population or any other group of people, including those who have never been in trouble," the statement continues, "But we do know that all the individuals released under Mandatory Reentry Supervision (MRS) would have been released in six months or less, with absolutely no supervision or services, and that our best chance to help them successfully reintegrate into society is by providing that supervision and those services while they are still under our jurisdiction."

House Bill 463 was intended to save Kentucky taxpayers about $40 million each year in prison costs.  Supporters argue that most inmates are going to be eventually released from prison, anyway and the cost savings are reinvested in supervision to improve the ex-cons' reentry into society.

Hulbert contends that the state needs to understand that incarceration is a sign of serious crime.

"These people, once you make it to prison, you sort of earn your right to be in prison because typically first time offenders, things like that, don't go to prison," Hulbert explained.  "I think Mr. Pendergrass had escape and other issues in his past which we would think on its face means he should serve the time he has to serve rather than being released early."

Of the 1629 Kentucky inmates released early under the MRS program since implementation started in January, 358 (21 percent) have at least one documented violation.  That includes 31 new misdemeanors and 29 new felonies.  About half of the violators have fled from probation.

"I think it's more evidence that the program needs to be more strict," Hulbert said.  "There needs to be more guidelines, if they have had prior escapes, if they have had violent felonies, maybe they're not appropriate to be released early."

The Justice cabinet said the official recidivism rate of the MRS inmates is only six percent.  The state's calculation of that rate only counts inmates who have come back into custody, not all who have committed violations after their release.