Time for a Change

The governor has to reform his parole board—now.

governor deval patrick parole board

Illustration by John Ueland

“It’s time for Democrats to grow a backbone,” Governor Deval Patrick declared at the Democratic National Convention in September. The governor would do well to follow his own advice. Two members of the state’s severely dysfunctional parole board, Lucy Soto-Abbe and Roger Michel, have served out their terms, and it’s time to replace them now.

As we reported last year, the governor himself created the problems on the board in early 2011, after Domenic Cinelli, a lifelong felon released 20 months earlier on parole, shot and killed the Woburn police officer John Maguire. Public outrage prompted a state investigation, which determined that Cinelli’s case had been mishandled. Patrick, maneuvering politically, hastily engineered the resignations of five of the board’s seven members. He then proceeded to stack the board with new members who had pasts in law enforcement, parole, or corrections, hoping they could be relied upon to regularly deny parole. They certainly lived up to expectations. In 2011 the board authorized the supervised release of 435 prisoners, whereas in 2010 it released 1,028. That’s a single-year decline of 58 percent.

This may sound like good news to those who hope never to let out another Domenic Cinelli. But it’s not. Officials around the country recognize that a healthy rate of parole is an essential element of a good corrections policy. The National Institute of Justice has called parole “key” to enhancing public safety, and a policy statement revised this year by the state board itself makes the same point. “The most dangerous population in the Commonwealth,” it reads, “are the ex-offenders who leave the prison setting from high levels of security without any form of post-release supervision and support.”

Governor Patrick created the current imbalance on the board, and by replacing Soto-Abbe and Michel he can bring things back into alignment. What we need now are members with backgrounds not only in law enforcement and prosecution but also in such fields as psychiatry, sociology, substance abuse, and social work. We need diversity, in other words. Without it, we’ll all pay the price.

  • Roger Michel

    I suppose I shouldn’t take things personally. After all, Ms. Trounstine doesn’t know me. However, I might have hoped that she would have learned a little more about her subject before spouting off in a public forum. In fact, I have the highest combined release rate over the past year of any board member. I’m also the only practicing Quaker ever appointed to the MA Parole Board. I can assure Ms. Trounstine that I take the social justice component of my job very seriously. As for my background, I do not, in fact, come from either the world of law enforcement or corrections. In addition, I have a certificate degree in Applied Forensic Psychology. Further, I was not appointed in the wake of the Cinelli episode; rather, I was one of the two board members who remained and supported the important work of board during many dark months. I am a graduate of Harvard Law School, Oxford University and Williams College. I have been a teacher and the editor-in-chief of a respected law journal. I like to think I am the kind of person whom the citizens of Massachusetts would like to attract to public service. Irresponsible editorials cloaked with the imprimatur of prominent news sources do little to encourage other qualified men and women to follow that path. I don’t appreciate being caricatured or to have my work misrepresented. But somehow I doubt Boston Magazine will commission any artwork to embellish my response. Ms Trounstine, you have tried to suggest that I approach my job in an irresponsible or doctrinaire manner. I would take a good look in the mirror. Sincerely, Roger Michel

    • Peter Kane

      Dude! You’re a public servant operating at the leisure of the governor and appointed by the governors council. Even moar, you’re wicked sketchy that you would even respond to Ms. Trounstine’s opinion.

      Another MA parole board FAIL!

      I have street cred – you don’t, but wish you did!

      • Peter Kane

        …but “I suppose I shouldn’t take things personally,” and you did!

  • http://www.jeantrounstine.com Jean Trounstine

    While Mr. Michel was appointed to the board before the Cinelli tragedy and says he is concerned with social justice, why has he not taken more of a leadership role to pull the board out of its bleak paroling record? During the last half of 2011 and the first half of 2012, Michel voted on 615 state prisoners up for parole. His record, 46% in the last half of 2011 and 52% in the first half of 2012 would have granted parole to 301, or 49% if it were totally up to him. In 2010, our Massachusetts paroling record was 58% for state parolees. As I wrote in “Patrick’s Folly” in August, 2011 in this magazine, “While far from perfect, the parole system in Massachusetts has historically served the state quite well. According to EOPSS [the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security] statistics, 78 percent of parolees complete their supervision in the community without returning to prison. The national average is 49 percent.”

  • Robert Dellelo

    The National Institute of Justice has it right calling parole “key” to enhancing public safety. It’s time for Governor Deval Patrick to grow a backbone, and step up to the plate, do the right thing for the right reason, dump Lucy Soto-Abbe and Roger Michel and replace them with “competent,” and “qualified” board members from the fields of psychiatry, sociology, substance abuse, and social work.

  • Roger Michel

    The lack of any real, substantive information on the part of the posters here is perhaps best exemplified by the fact that I indicated months ago that I would not be seeking another term. While I have enjoyed the work, I agree that it is important to have diverse voices weigh in on these important decisions. I can tell you that I always tried my best to show good judgment and compassion. Like many of you, I strongly believe in the public safety role of re-entry. Best regards, Roger Michel

    • Hope Haff

      found the Boston Magazine parole board article direct but balanced.
      It seems to me that parole board decisions should look at all the factors and be decided by evidence-based criteria. They should not only protect the public “outside,’ but also give those inside who have taken steps to rehabilitate themselves some reasons to look forward with hope as well as an opportunity to connect with resources likely to make their return to society a success. They should not be arbitrary or capricious.

      Serving effectively on a parole board or anywhere in the prison system is hard work. Being criticized for this work can be stressful, but if public institutions are going to succeed, hearing feedback and having a dialogue with professionals and citizens charged with supporting this same population in the community is very important. A parole board which has a balance of social scientists, drug and criminal justice rehab experts and law enforcement is vital. Such a board would have the capacity for attention to detail as well as awareness of research about what works. Otherwise families and communities can be damaged over generations, and we all lose out in the end.

  • Jerome Rollman

    Why is parole important?
    The possibility of parole helps motivate prisoners to participate in programs and get back to their families sooner.
    Supervision from Parole Officers helps parolees stay on track during the transition to the community. Wrapping up a sentence means no post-prison supervision.
    The decline in paroles from 1,028 in 2010 to 435 in 2011 apparently means that almost 600 people from one year remain in prisons that are at 145% of capacity. Since parole supervision costs about $5,000 per person annually while prison costs $47,000, the bill for those 593 prisoners is $25 million in one year!

  • http://www.realcostofprisons.org Lois Ahrens

    Almost two years ago, Domenic Cinelli killed an off-duty police officer. Governor Patrick resonded immediately by firing most of the parole board and replacing them with former prosecutors and others who are reticent about paroling people who in other years would have received parole. It appears when the Governor has an interest in quickly appointing new Parole Board members, he does. The same cannot be said of Roger Michel and Lucy Soto-Abbe. Their terms have expired but they still attend hearings and vote because the Governor is dragging his feet. The consequences of the Governor’s inaction means no new appointments of Parole Board members who could balance the Board–such as social workers, criminal defense lawyers and family members of prisoners. As Jerome Rollman correctly notes, the decline in paroles from 1,028 in 2010 to 435 in 2011 apparently means that almost 600 people from one year remain in prisons that are at 145% of capacity. The future laid out Exec. Office of Public Safety and Security is just around the corner. In January 2012, EOPPS estimated that if 3 strikes passed, if no significant changes to mandatory drug laws were enacted, if there are no major positive changes to parole and probation than MA will need an additional 10,000 new “beds”, more than the 1,900 the state proposed in the current Corrections Master Plan. They estimate they would need to double the current $550 bond to build more prisons and jails to at least 1.3 billion and spend an additional $100 million a year on top the more than $1 billion a year we already spend. Is this the “corrections” future Massachusetts wants? When was the last time we were asked?

  • http://bostonmagazine.com Lauren Garcia

    For the first time in my life. I went to a hearing. It was a disgrace on how the inmates are treated. Some were being spoke to with respect. Some being spoke to like they were being prosecuted over again. We must not forget they did there time and if they did everything they were suppose to do. Give them a chance. Women are the number one’s who have not been parole like the men and that’s not fair. The parole board has been denying people. Its like they are being punished all over again. That is not fair. There should be a time limit on how long they take for a decision not a year. 15 to life, second degree murder. If you do 15 years. You should be out. A cap should have been put on that. If this is your first violent offense. You should be given parole. They need to start letting people out.