WASHINGTON (JTA) — Jonathan Pollard, who spied for Israel, is set to be released on parole on Nov. 21 unless the parole board objects, the U.S. Justice Department said.
A statement emailed to JTA on Saturday noted that Pollard, a civilian U.S. Navy analyst, was arrested in 1985 and in 1987 was sentenced to life for espionage.
“Under the laws in place at that time (and which are currently applicable to Pollard), a person with a life sentence is presumptively eligible for mandatory parole after 30 years unless the Parole Commission ‘determines that he has seriously or frequently violated institution rules or that there is a reasonable probability that he will commit any Federal, State, or local crime’,” it said. “Pollard is eligible for mandatory parole in November 2015.”
Nov. 21 marks 30 years since Pollard was first jailed and for years has been listed as his release date.
Until mandatory parole kicks in, the burden is on the prisoner to show why he deserves parole. Pollard’s single application for parole, last year, failed.
As of Nov. 21, however, the burden shifts to the parole commission to show why Pollard does not deserve parole.
Pollard’s chances for release appear to be improved under the criteria by which the parole commission may object to mandatory parole: his behavior in prison and the likelihood he will commit another crime. He reportedly has been a model prisoner and his capacity for additional damage through revelations would be limited 30 years after he lost access to classified information.
The terms under which the commission would object to parole, as outlined in the statement, do not encompass what for years was the main objection to Pollard’s release, cited last year when the parole board turned him down: the seriousness of Pollard’s crime and the breadth of his espionage.
“You passed thousands of Top Secret documents to Israeli agents, threatening U.S. relations in the Middle East among the Arab countries,” the parole commission letter said last year. “Given all this information, paroling you at this time would depreciate the seriousness of the offense and promote disrespect for the law.”
The Justice Department statement came after The Wall Street Journal reported that the Obama administration was preparing for his release. The Journal suggested that a factor for the Obama administration was its hope that Pollard’s release would smooth relations with Israel.
U.S. officials adamantly denied that was the case.
“Mr. Pollard’s status will be determined by the United States Parole Commission according to standard procedures,” Alistair Baskey, a spokesman for the National Security Council, told JTA. “There is absolutely zero linkage between Mr. Pollard’s status and foreign policy considerations.”
Pollard had for years sought presidential commutation of his sentence in part because his movement could still be restricted under parole. It’s not clear whether he would be able to travel immediately to Israel once he is paroled.
The Nov. 21, 2015, release, for years listed by the Bureau of Prisons on its search engine, has been a subject of confusion and controversy. Advocates for Pollard have argued that it did not guarantee release and should not factor into bids to commute his sentence. Others, including some who objected to commutation, argued that Pollard’s release on the date was likely and that he should serve the full 30 years that a life sentence encompassed at the time of his arrest.