Delays in parole eyed for reform as part of criminal justice review

Photo: Thinkstock
Photo: Thinkstock

BOSTON, OCT. 20, 2016……People paroled from the Massachusetts Department of Correction spend on average about 300 days incarcerated between their earliest parole eligibility date and the day they are actually released, according to researchers investigating the state’s criminal justice system.

The bulk of that time – 206 days – accrues between the decision to grant the inmate parole and their release, according to a presentation Thursday by the Council of State Governments.

“Two hundred and six days seems like it’s a lot,” said Rep. Chris Markey, a former prosecutor and member of the criminal justice review working group.

Public Safety and Security Secretary Dan Bennett agreed and said he would convene with corrections and parole officials to try to “come up with a shorter amount of time than that.”

Working with the Council of State Governments, the 25-member working group has a goal of producing legislation to reform the state’s criminal justice and sentencing systems in time for January’s bill filing deadline, according to Sen. William Brownsberger, co-chair of the group.

Paul Treseler, the chairman of the Parole Board, said there are a number of reasons why someone’s release would be delayed after being granted parole. He said they may commit an infractions – such as fighting or drug use – or they could be at the maximum security prison – Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley.

“We don’t want you being released from Souza-Baranowski directly to the street,” Treseler said.

After the meeting, Markey suggested holding parole hearings well in advance of an inmate’s parole eligibility.

“It probably seems to make sense that when someone has a parole eligibility date that six months before or maybe 300 days before, or some proportion of their sentence, they have an opportunity for a hearing,” Markey told the News Service. He said, “It’s about cost-savings. I mean we’re not going to raise taxes for people in jail. We can’t get early childhood education throughout the state.”

Katie Mosehauer, project manager for the Council of State Governments Justice Center, said of the 1,656 Department of Correction inmates released in fiscal 2015, 540 had no probation or parole after release. Inmates can be released with no supervision at the end of their sentence because parole had been denied, they opted against seeking parole, or because of the type of sentence, Mosehauer said. She said 74 were released without supervision after being granted parole because their sentence maxed out before they were released.

Treseler said that lower-level offenders incarcerated in houses of correction present in some ways a greater risk for returning to the criminal justice system after their release.

“This opiate epidemic that we’re living is being lived out in these houses of correction,” Treseler said. He said, “If there’s one place where an impact of government can be made, it’s in the re-entry of these addicts.”

The council cited a unique 2016 study by the Alliance for Safety and Justice that surveyed crime victims and found they wanted a focus on community supervision and rehabilitation over prisons and jails by a 2-1 margin and they believe, by a 3-1 margin, that prison makes people more likely to commit crimes than to become rehabilitated. By a 7-to-1 margin, the crime victims preferred investments in mental health over incarceration, according to the council.

Steve Allen, a senior policy advisor for the council, said studies have shown that the best approach to reducing recidivism involve assessing inmates’ risk for re-entering the criminal justice system, determining their needs to avoid crime, and providing services in a way that is responsive to their individual characteristics – shortening those principles to risk, need and responsivity or RNR.

Allen said programs that are in the community “tend to have more impact” than programs in custody, and imposing too intensive programing and supervision on someone who is of low risk to reoffend can make them more likely to commit crimes.

“That’s an empirical finding,” Allen told the News Service. Asked for the reasons behind that dynamic, Allen said jobs, family and engagement in the community deter people from crime, and said, “If you strip away those resources by interventions that are too severe, you essentially take away part of the reason why people are at low-risk.”

Moving people at low risk of re-offending into programs with people at high risk of reoffending can make it easy for those low-risk people to “take on that thinking about life” espoused by the high risk people, Allen said.

Copyright  2016 State House News Service

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