Patrick’s Folly

Last December, a brave police officer was killed by a career criminal out on parole. A massive public outcry followed: Fix the System! Some states respond to these situations by launching thorough investigations. Others start passing poorly researched laws—and pay the price for years to come. Too bad our governor is leading us down the wrong path.

Immediately after Maguire was killed, and amid understandable public outrage, Patrick ordered the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPSS) to conduct a review of the case. The investigation uncovered some disturbing mistakes, such as poor parole supervision for Cinelli. But the EOPSS — which was asked to examine the case for Cinelli’s parole, not the underlying problems in the parole system — wrapped up its work in just over two weeks. The review, in other words, was hardly the type of comprehensive study that some states have undertaken before attempting to fix parole problems. Yet the EOPSS report became the basis for the governor to start overhauling our entire system.

With complete disregard for the kind of reasoned inquiry that has historically set Massachusetts apart, Patrick engineered the resignations of five of the seven parole-board members. He then quickly replaced them with handpicked tough-on-crimers. But the governor was just getting warmed up. He disposed of three other parole officials. And he went after Donald Giancioppo — who’d been the executive director of the parole board when Cinelli was released — even though Giancioppo had resigned his post a few months earlier to take a different government job…from which Patrick promptly forced his resignation. All of this, believe it or not, took place in just one month.

Compare that with the careful and deliberate approach Pennsylvania recently took before reworking its system after a lapse that had deadly consequences. That state spent two years reviewing the problems with its parole system, conducting a thorough analysis that led to the implementation of what are known as evidence-based practices — the kind that are promoted by respected organizations such as he American Probation and Parole Association and the National Institute of Corrections.

By responding to the shooting death of a police officer with emotion — and, yes, with an eye on politics — instead of with dispassionate investigation, this most enlightened and progressive of states has started down a decidedly backward path.

While far from perfect, the parole system in Massachusetts has historically served the state quite well. According to EOPSS statistics, 78 percent of parolees complete their supervision in the community without returning to prison. The national average is 49 percent.

That successful system is now under assault not just from Patrick’s rushed and ill-advised remaking of the parole board, but also from five bills currently working their way through the State House, each of them more punitive than the last. What all of these proposed laws — some put forth by the governor and others by legislators — have in common is that they would reduce or eliminate parole for some types of prisoners, and drastically increase prison time for people convicted of a third felony.

  • David

    I commend the author for saying some courageous things. In other contexts we accept that a policy decision carries some risk to lives and health. We try to minimize that risk but accept that the ris

  • Lyn

    We should know by now that knee jerk reactions don’t help. This is a carefully researched and level headed article that sets up the context carefully. When we rush to judgement, we usually rush in the wrong direction. There are too many lives at stake: potential victims of violent crime, people who work in overburdened, prisons where there is little hope left, and individuals whose futures will be lost because of overzealous individuals who act without thinking. In this case, I mean us: the folks who pass the laws that cause us to lose in the long AND short run. We have seen the evidence across the country. We can’t continually do the same thing and expect different results. Let’s work on the causes of the problems. Let’s, after all, be fair. It’s only right.

  • mike

    “The investigation uncovered some disturbing mistakes, such as poor parole supervision for Cinelli.” Really? How was it poor? What was the disturbing mistake? The PO did not call a treatment provider?

  • Jean

    Mike –To read the report from the governor’s office is to see the “disturbing” mistakes. Check it out for yourself at http://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/26173/cinelli.pdf. Supervision and sup

  • Donna

    The DOC has a huge responsibility here! While the Dominic Cinelli’s of the world are incarcerated for some 20-30 years do they have access to education, rehab, therapy? Or is it the “stick em in a cage, poke sticks at him and see how he comes out mentality” – The DOC is not doing their job or properly preparing these inmates for life on the street. This is BIG business and job security for the DOC. Increasing recidivism rate guarantees and secures the jobs of so many employees of the DOC – They have no incentive to ensure that inmates are rehabilitated upon release from prison. That makes it so easy to blame a parole board. I also commend this author. People need to know that there are several inmates who are prepared to re-enter society, despite the DOC. Dept of CORRECTION.. I beg to differ. Google “The Catastrophic Failure of Corrections” by John Feroli, Old Colony prison

  • sher

    An enlightening article that validates society’s understandable concerns and fears, yet digs deeper to look at more effective ways to deal with those concerns. We should indeed learn from the way PA has overhauled their system by developing better criteria for parole, more support and stricter supervision of parolees, as well as a parole board composed of people with diverse fields of expertise. We need to see those in jail as ‘people’ and not just as ‘prisoners’ and to try to understand where the system went wrong so that they ended up in jail in the first place. An even broader vision would be to try to offer needed services sooner to prevent individuals from ending up in the Correctional System at all.

  • Jared

    I liked the evidence you came up with. It actually pursuaded me on the subject, although I did not have a side on the matter at the time.

  • ricksmiFF

    Deval Patrick expressed himself as a timid weak leader who kowtows to mob pressure. He did not at once stop to think that the Cinelli episode was a fluke in a system that otherwise showed improvement in successful parolee completions! he was the only governor to
    allow that drivers ticketed must PAY to appeal tickets,tickets sometimes issued by mean spirited cops.