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.