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.