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Father Fuming Over Lack of Notice

OSWEGO COUNTY, NY – The father of a Hannibal boy who is believed to have sustained severe brain damage at the hands of his former daycare provider says it is outrageous that his family did not receive notification of her early release from jail.

Elroy Edwards said as the victim, his son should have been informed that Audrey Arnold was granted a conditional release earlier this month.

“They let her out and did not contact or notify my son,” Edwards said. “This is outrageous. We had a right to know that the woman who hurt our child was being released.”

Arnold, who was found guilty of endangering the welfare of a child March 31, was sentenced to serve one year in jail June 3; convicted of causing injuries to Fajo Edward while he was in her care May 31, 2006. Fajo was three-months old at the time.

Monday, Oswego County Sheriff Reuel Todd said that Arnold was granted “local conditional release” by the state parole board. Arnold will serve a one-year parole sentence from the day of her release, which was Sept. 12.

Edwards said he believes the system is flawed.

“The process should be in favor of the victim, not the criminal,” Edwards said. “They should have notified us. It seems that the criminal gets more support than the victim. This is unacceptable.”

Notified by Fulton Daily News Tuesday that Arnold had been released from the Oswego County jail, Edwards was in disbelief. He spent the day Wednesday confirming her release and asking to state and local officials why his family was not notified.

Edwards spoke with Oswego County District Attorney Donald Dodd, Legislature Chairman Barry Leemann and Assemblyman Will Barclay. He is meeting today with Oswego County Sheriff Reuel Todd and has made contact with Senator Darrel Aubertine.

Edwards pointed out that Arnold resides two doors down the street from his home.

“Thank God I didn’t just run into her,” he said. “I don’t understand the whole procedure or process. I am still trying to flesh that out. But I am not going to rest until I get to the bottom of this.

“It seems to me that in Oswego County, criminals are allowed to remain free,” he added. “Audrey wasn’t arrested for two years and didn’t go to jail until after the trial.”

Referencing the Erin Maxwell homicide investigation, Edwards said, “God rest her soul. She was killed and nobody has been arrested. … The response here is just not adequate.”

“I am at a loss,” Edwards added. “Just when you think you are turning a corner, something happens. … For now, I am trying to stay strong and get through today. Who knows what tomorrow will bring.”

Oswego County Undersheriff Robert Lighthall explained that victim notification is not part of the inmate release process at the jail.

“We release people every day,” he said. “We couldn’t make notifications for every release we have.”

For that reason, Lighthall said that Oswego County joined the fight years in the late 90s to implement the VINE (Victim Information and Notification Everyday) system.

Lighthall explained that anyone can register for notification of a prisoner’s release from any facility through the national victim notification network.

The service allows crime victims and other citizens to obtain timely and reliable information about criminal cases and the custody status of offenders 24 hours a day. The public can register to be notified by phone, e-mail or text telephone when an offender’s custody status changes by registering online or through the participating state or county toll-free number.

“When you register, you are notified within 15 minutes of an inmate’s release from any facility,” Lighthall said.

While victims are notified of parole hearings at the state level, Lighthall noted that victim notification is not required in the rules for local conditional release.

“I feel bad for the Edwards family that the state did not notify them,” Sheriff Todd said. “But we don’t have any control over that. They made their decision before we were even notified that they were contemplating it.”

Lighthall pointed out that while Oswego County used to have a Local Conditional Release Board, it has since been eliminated.

“The state parole board took over the program in September 2005,” he said. “The state has jurisdiction over any inmate getting local conditional release from our facility.”

Inmates apply to the state parole board for a conditional release review. The sheriff’s department maintains application packets that are provided at an inmate’s request.

Lighthall noted, however, that local conditional releases are rare in Oswego County.

“We have had 15 applications since the state took over the program,” Lighthall said. Of those, he said Arnold represented the third inmate whose release was granted.

The first, Francis Smith, was granted local conditional release in January 2007. The second, Donna Towne, was released in June 2007. Lighthall noted that Towne had served 141 days of her sentence on a drunk driving conviction. She violated her parole and returned to the county jail in June 2008 to serve the remaining time she owed on the original sentence. She was released Aug. 22.

“Even if you screw up on the last day of your parole, you do the rest of the time you owed,” he said.

Within the application terms, Lighthall said the sentence has to be a determinate sentence in excess of 90 days. Inmates have to serve at least 30 days to apply and have to have served at least 60 days to be released.

Inmates who receive an intermittent sentence, a split sentences or a family court sentence are not eligible for the program. Those sentenced to serve probation after incarceration are also ineligible.

“You can’t do parole and probation at the same time,” Lighthall explained.

When local conditional release is granted, a one-year parole sentence begins that requires regular visits with a parole officer including weekly scheduled office visits and unannounced visits at home or work at any time. Parolees are also required to pay $30 per week while they are under supervision.

Parolees are not allowed to leave the boundaries of their county without permission.

Lighthall noted that if Arnold had served her full sentence, she would have been released June 2, 2009. If released early for “good time” (which gives inmates one day off of their sentence for every two days served with good behavior), she would have been slated for release Feb. 1, 2009.

Because Feb. 1 is a Sunday, Lighthall said she would have been released Jan. 30, 2009 because weekend releases are prohibited but the jail could not have held her beyond the time she owed.

In all, Arnold served 101 days of her one-year jail sentence. She declined comment Wednesday morning.