I am posting this important notice for Massachusetts from the Steering Committee of the Coalition for Effective Public Safety (CEPS).
As many of you know, there have been hearings by the Joint Committee on the Judiciary this summer on many bills that are important to everyone fighting for justice. One area which is crucial, but unfortunately not on everyone’s radar, is parole. The Coalition for Effective Public Safety is writing to urge you to TAKE ACTION TUESDAY-WEDNESDAY THIS WEEK and contact members of the Judiciary Committee to support “An Act Related to Parole,” S.779 (Sen. William Brownsberger) and H.3121 (Rep. Dave Rogers). A Fact Sheet on these parole bills–they are the same–is attached to this email. We have also heard that the Senate will be deciding its priorities on Wednesday, July 12th. Parole reform is crucial if we want to end mass incarceration.
Why we need these bills to become law now
1) They increases Parole Board membership from seven to nine members and requires six members to sit as the full Board for all lifer release hearings. At present, prisoners serving non-life State Prison sentences and House of Correction sentences are not receiving their parole hearings on time. Some Prisoners’ parole eligibility dates come and go without a parole hearing. Also, prisoners serving life sentences generally wait between six and eight months for their parole decisions. Additional Board members will help to correct these serious problems.
These bills also require that at least three members of the Parole Board have at least five years of experience in the fields of psychiatry, psychology, social work, or the treatment of substance use disorder. They also requires that one member be a licensed mental health professional. Our Parole Board needs members with more diversity of experience in order to effectively evaluate the people seeking parole who come before it.
At present, only one of six members, Dr. Charlene Bonner, has extensive clinical experience as a forensic psychologist. (There is one vacancy) There is no one on the Board with education and experience in clinical social work, psychiatry, medicine or sociology. The Board’s background is primarily in the area of law enforcement. This is not sufficient for the number of prisoners who have mental health issues, substance abuse issues or both (approximately 70% all prisoners).
Additionally, the Parole Board holds over 10,000 hearings a year, where members travel across the state, and in one, two or three-person panels, hear cases. That number includes 200 hearings with the full board for those serving life sentences eligible for parole. That means our one psychologist has no contact with the vast majority of persons seeking parole. We need Board members who are better trained to evaluate and predict behavior. That is what parole is all about and the result will be better informed and fairer decisions . There is currently no mechanism to ensure that our Parole Board has the education and skills necessary for well-informed, fair decisions that promotepublic safety.
2) The Council of State Government data on Massachusetts confirms that we are paroling prisoners at a very low rate and forcing many parole eligible people to wrap up their sentences and transition home with no help and no oversight: in 2015, only 19% of parole eligible prisoners in our Houses of Correction were released on parole; in that same year, while 46.4% of those serving DOC sentences received positive votes for parole, 18% of that group max out and [were] not released to parole supervision. CSG’s research concluded that we need to reduce our prison population through parole. These bills would help us assure that prisoners would not be judged solely on the underlying offense but on positive program accomplishments, detailed post-release plans, strong evidence of rehabilitation and low risk assessment scores. The bills incentivize good behavior and engagement in educational, vocational, and rehabilitative programming by creating a sense that parole release is the individual’s to lose. The parole rate will improve and Massachusetts will save money $5000 to supervise one parolee vs. $53,000 to house a state prisoner.
PLEASE MAKE TWO PHONE CALLS JULY 11-12.
ASK THE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE TO REPORT OUT FAVORABLY PAROLE BILLS S.779 AND H.3121.
Co-Chairs are William Brownsberger (Senate) and Claire Cronin (House). Please call the Senate Contact for the Judiciary Committee (617)-722-1280 and the House Contact (617) 722-2396
Tell them: “As a concerned resident of Massachusetts, I am urging the Judiciary Committee to report out favorably parole bills S.779 and H.3121.”
If you can make a third phone call, listed below are the members of the Judiciary Committee. Click on the names below and you can get their contact info and the areas they represent. If any committee members are your legislators, it would be helpful for you to contact them too. This is a time sensitive issue so thank you for your ACTION NOW!
William N. Brownsberger
Claire D. Cronin
James M. Cantwell
FACT SHEET ON PAROLE BILLS available upon request.