, Salem, MA

Local News

February 23, 2007

Recent cases have Parole Board under the spotlight


"I'd give someone 15 to 20, and he'd be out in five," said retired Judge Robert Barton, who was appointed by Gov. Michael Dukakis in 1978.

Inmates would become eligible for parole after serving as little as one-third of the minimum number of years on their sentence. And on top of that, there was credit for "good time" - an inmate could shave as much as 21 days a month off his sentence - "which was ridiculous," Barton said.

He said the truth in sentencing law was a welcome change.

But the crackdown on parole and sentencing reform had an unintended consequence - while fewer people were being released from jail, more of those being released were re-offending.

The recidivism rate rose dramatically. A Boston Bar Association study released in 2002 found that 44 percent of people being released from prison were returning to jail within three years.

More than half of those being released were inmates who had "wrapped up" their sentence - they had served the full term, without getting parole - and were then being released directly to the streets without supervision or assistance.

They had little incentive to stay out of trouble - there was no balance of a sentence hanging over their head, no possibility of going back to jail unless they were caught committing a new crime.

"Like it or not, the most dangerous offenders, generally, are those who are unsupervised, untreated and, in the case of sex offenders, unclassified," Walsh said. "We don't know their whereabouts, can't offer treatment or employment, and can't make sure they're drug- and alcohol-free and abiding by the law."

Recidivism has dropped

Between 2000 and 2001, the parole rate climbed back up to 65 percent, and the recidivism rate dropped. Currently, it's at about 20 percent - meaning one in five parolees fail on parole.

According to the Parole Board, while 14 percent of "lifers" paroled between 2002 and 2005 violated their parole, only three of them had committed new crimes. Others were found in violation for such things as failing a drug test or not reporting to a parole officer.

Because they're on parole, it's easier to return them to custody - a parole officer need only show it's more likely than not that a violation occurred to send someone back to prison.

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