WBUR

Money May Trump Ideology In Fixing Parole System

BOSTON — Despite continued calls for the justice system to impose longer prison time, more minimum mandatory sentences and tougher restrictions of getting parole, financial considerations may end up being more important than ideology in the debate over parole in Massachusetts. But it may take a little while longer to get to the bottom line.

At Wednesday’s confirmation hearing for Josh Wall, Gov. Deval Patrick’s choice to replace the Parole Board chairman he forced out last month, there was less talk about Wall than about Domenic Cinelli. He’s the prisoner the old Parole Board, all ousted now, released on parole back in 2009, which put Cinelli in a position to shoot and kill a Woburn police officer during an aborted jewelry store robbery in December 2010.

Scandal, outrage and proposals to get tougher on parole have followed that killing, during which Cinelli himself was shot to death. Members of the Governor’s Council spent copious amounts of time, during the five-and-a-half-hour hearing, to criticize the old board for its many failures.

To one of the long list of witnesses who praised Wall so highly, Mary Ellen Manning responded:

Here’s our problem. Mark Conrad and the rest of the Parole Board got sacked — even though there were many, many people who came to testify for them saying they had good judgment, that they were compassionate people, that they were dedicated public servants, that they understood criminal behavior, that they understood mental illness…

We’re put in the same situation now. Put yourself in my shoes and tell me why I should risk my reputation on attorney Wall, when the same remarks were made about the prior members of the Parole Board who all got canned.

Is setting the bar higher for Parole Board nominees and for their decisions going to mean far fewer prisoners getting parole?

That’s what defense attorney Patricia Garin worries. She runs a Northeastern University law clinic that counsels parole applicants and was at the hearing to oppose Wall’s nomination, saying the board needs more than law enforcement people, who are inclined to oppose parole almost reflexively.

But here’s what might prove a more persuasive argument. The cost of putting more people in prison and keeping them there longer is staggering.

Here in Massachusetts, it costs $47,000 a year to house one person in the state prison system.

Here in Massachusetts, it costs $47,000 a year to house one person in the state prison system. The latest numbers show that the inmate population is 150 percent over capacity, and the latest counts for county jails show some at over 200 percent of capacity. In Bristol County, the jail population is 361 percent over capacity.

The trend line of overcrowding and court rulings to relieve overcrowding points to the need to build more prisons or release more prisoners. California is facing an order to release 40,000 prisoners because of overcrowding.

Across the country, state governments now spend some $50 billion every year on prison budgets. Put that atop the need to cut huge deficits in state government and suddenly we’re looking at the likes of Newt Gingrich calling for prison reforms to cut prison costs.

Republican governors in Ohio and Florida are talking about lowering the prison population by putting fewer people in prison and by expanding rehabilitation efforts and alternatives to incarceration.

In the end, the issue of crime and punishment may follow the cues of money and not ideology.

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  • Trayg1997

    I feel like they need to revaluate there system and how much time they give people. I have a friend that is currently serving 3 to 4 years in prision for his first offence selling drugs and if you ask him he would tell you he would never do it again and he proved that in the year it took to put him there he never ever sold another drug but that did not matter he even wrote a letter saying he was sorry for what he had done and that he is the father of three children and relized when he was arrested that it wasnt worth what he put his children through and the district attorney said that appauled him more then it did any good. Now in jail the guards even ask him what he is even doing there because he has so many manners and keeps to himself and just wants to get out and start working a normal job which he also got while he was waiting to be arraigned but it dosent matter what he did or does he still is looking at awhile so you are paying for him to be in there when if you ask me and not because he is my friend but because of the situation it is rediculous to have him in jail when he could do more good by doing community service or speak to kids and let them know its not worth it in life to do what he did because he would tell anyone that now that he made a stupid mistake and he wishes he could take it all back.         Teresa gauthier

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