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The Parole of the Century


The case of Nathan Leopold, participant in the sensational Loeb-Leopold murder of 1923, comes before the Illinois Parole Board this January. Last year, Leopold's parole was granted, only to be vetoed by Governor William J. Stratton. The explanation for Stratton's refusal to parole Leopold was that it is politically inexpedient; public antipathy to his release is believed to be great.

There is more at stake in this case than the release or continued imprisonment of one man. To refuse a deserved parole damages the whole penal system of this country. Public pressure should not be allowed to determine the validity of the parole system. Even the people who believe in retributive penal justice should be satisfied by the thirty-five years Leopold has served.

Those who fear Leopold's release for the sake of society's safety have little reason to worry. Leopold has conducted himself as a model prisoner during his years of imprisonment; no evidence of disciplinary or sexual deviancy has ever been reported of Leopold. The frustrations inherent in prison life make this achievement quite rare. Meyer Levin, who intelligently examined the Loeb-Leopold case in his recent book Compulsion, believes that the murder served as a catharsis for Leopold's psychic problems, releasing him into a normal mental life.

These specific indications of Leopold's mental health are supported by more general statistics. Murderers have by far the best parole record of any group of criminals, with less than one half of one per cent returning to prison. In addition, the over-whelming majority of criminals is totally reformed by the age of thirty-five; Leopold is now fifty-five.

It is often argued that the release of people like Leopold removes much of the fear of punishment deterring acts of crime. Anyone at all familiar with the motivations of criminals knows that fear of punishment plays little part in the anticipation of a criminal act. There is no reason to assume that the release of Leopold or of anyone else will have any effect whatsoever on the crime rate.

These are more positive arguments for Leopold's release. Besides being a model prisoner, Leopold has redesigned the prison library, learned to be a medical technician, taught classes in prison, served in cancer experiments, and participated on the board for parole prediction on which he has written two published articles. Leopold, who speaks thirty-six languages, is obviously intelligent and could be a potentially very valuable member of society. Indeed, he has often reiterated that, if released, he will go to Puerto Rico and serve as a medical technician for the natives in the manner of Albert Schweitzer.

Even if Leopold were totally lacking in intellectual abilities or altruistic purpose, there would be no logical reason for not granting him a parole. It is quite obvious that Leopold would long ago have been released if he had not participated in the "Crime of the Century," and if his parole would not raise a public clamor. It is to be hoped that Governor Stratton can transcend political expediency and not again veto the expected parole. If he does block Leopold's release, he is in effect declaring invalid the idea of the parole system.

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