Heyl: Convict would like to see Orie stay in prison a while longer

| Friday, Dec. 13, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

They don't want to see her go.

Former State Sen. Jane Orie is so popular among other Pennsylvania Department of Corrections inmates that they don't want her to leave the comfortable confines of prison come February.

Or so it seems from the assertions of Donald Scott, a resident of the Convict Inn in Somerset. (Frequented by felons, this chain of state correctional institutions offers many amenities unavailable at Comfort Inns, among them free delousing and strip searches.)

Known among prison guards by the clever nickname “Inmate JY1727 AB,” Scott wrote the Trib to complain that Orie stands to be released before serving her minimum 2½- to 10-year sentence for a corruption conviction.

“She (won't) even (have) done 24 months until June 2014. After that, she still owes six months,” Scott stated in the handwritten letter. “What kind of program is Orie getting? Inmates want to know.”

Orie, 52, formerly of McCandless and now of the Cambridge Springs Convict Inn in Crawford County, was sentenced in June 2012 on her conviction of having her Senate staff perform campaign work. She continues to appeal the conviction.

Citing a positive recommendation from the corrections department, the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole last month announced that Orie would be released early. A corrections department spokeswoman said at the time that Orie “really gave back to the inmates who were around her.”

That explanation rankled Scott, 50, who is serving a five- to 10-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault. Scott claimed he acted in self-defense in 2008 when he fired a gun into a crowd outside a Wilkinsburg gym he owned; a 17-year-old boy was killed.

“Ms. Orie hasn't done anything that other inmates (haven't) done, but they weren't released 10 months prior (to) their minimum,” he said.

Stapled to Scott's letter was a copy of a state law, approved last year, that prohibits prisoners being released prior to serving the minimum sentence set by a judge.

“The Legislature stopped pre-releases in 2012,” Scott said. “I think (the parole board) don't read the law.”

He's correct that the early releases were halted. But the key words to understand in discussing Orie's impending freedom are “serving the minimum sentence set by a judge.” When Orie was sentenced, the judge made her eligible for the Recidivism Risk Reduction Incentive. The program allows non-violent offenders who meet specific good behavior criteria to knock off a percentage off their minimum sentences.

Though the effort proved futile, Scott should be commended for attempting to keep Orie for as long as possible in the environment in which corrections officials say she has flourished. Orie should be flattered that her fellow prisoners in the penal system are finding it so difficult to say goodbye.

Not many white-collar criminals inspire impassioned pleas for their continued incarceration.

Eric Heyl is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7857 or eheyl@tribweb.com.

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