Last year on the day after Christmas, Woburn Police Officer Jack Maguire was shot and killed during a robbery. The murderer was a violent criminal who was free on parole despite being sentenced to three sentences of fifteen-years-to-life. Melissa Gosule, a Boston teacher and Randolph native, was kidnapped, raped and murdered in 1999 after she accepted a ride from a passer-by after her car broke down in Bourne. Her killer was a career criminal with a history of more than 20 arrests.
Over the last year, I have had the opportunity to work with Officer Maguire’s brother Chuck on legislation to improve our parole system. The Maguire and Gosule families have suffered tremendously, but they have turned their grief into a tireless effort to change our criminal justice system. Last week, the Senate voted to pass a package of sweeping parole reforms that I believe will go a long way to improving public safety.
In considering how a parole system should function, two goals must be considered. First, we ensure the public is protected from violent, habitual offenders. Second, we must use taxpayer dollars wisely and ensure that our system is fair and transparent. This bill represents a smart balance of the two.
The major provisions of this law would restrict parole eligibility for the most dangerous and violent criminals. Offenders who have previously committed two violent felonies would not be parole eligible upon conviction of a third offense. And, inmates serving multiple fifteen-years-to-life sentences would also be ineligible for parole. This law would also change how life sentences are implemented by judges and how parole is granted. For example, the parole board would be required to include a risk and needs assessment of potential parolees when making its determinations.
This bill also incorporates two separate pieces of legislation I filed regarding domestic violence: creating a criminal offense of strangulation and adding pets to restraining orders. Choking a victim and abusing pets are two indicators that a domestic violence situation is becoming lethal. Both of these provisions would extend protections to those in dangerous situations and help prosecutors and judges effectively intervene in domestic violence cases before a death occurs.
At the same time that we have taken legislative action to strengthen our laws and keep violent, dangerous criminals off the street, we also have examined the system as a whole and taken steps to make it more cost-effective. This bill reduces some minimum mandatory sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. As many states consider options in sentencing for nonviolent offenders, this is a first step in building a corrections system that provides cost effective sentencing and supervision that will reduce recidivism and improve public safety.
As we move forward in the legislative process, I will continue to work to create a system that keeps the most violent criminals behind bars while creating opportunity for meaningful rehabilitation for nonviolent drug offenders.