Sen. Clark: Reforming Our Parole System

State Sen. Katherine Clark (D-Melrose) weighs in about the Massachusetts Parole System and the changes she feels are necessary.

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.

David Whelan November 21, 2011 at 01:24 AM
Senator Clark: As you know, the requirements associated with chapter 70 section 4 have not been met since June 2001 in spite of the every two year mandate under Massachusetts General Laws. In order to meet the mandate required under MGL, it is my view that the legislature, more specifically, the Joint Committee on Education, a committee that includes you as a member, should be establishing the committee and mandated meetings or you risk failing to follow state statute for the 5th consecutive every two year cycle. The subsections of ch 70 section 4 referenced above are below. The commission shall conduct not fewer than four hearings to receive testimony from members of the public. The hearings shall be held in locations that provide opportunities for residents from all geographic regions of the commonwealth to testify. The commission’s recommendations, together with any proposed legislation, shall be filed not later than September 30 of each even-numbered year with the clerks of the senate and house of representatives who shall refer such recommendations to the appropriate committee of the general court. Within 30 days after such filing, the committee shall hold a public hearing on the recommendations. http://www.malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleXII/Chapter70/Section4 I look forward to your response. David P. Whelan, Jr. Former School Committee Member-Swampscott davidwhelanjr@gmail.com


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