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article imageThe Politics of Parole: A look into Massachusetts' Parole System Special

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By Meagan McGinnes     Oct 9, 2011 in Politics
Woburn - This article is a closer look into the Massachusetts’ parole system and the national struggle between public safety and the monetary means to ensure it.
When Chuck Maguire’s phone rang during his relaxing, television filled night-after-Christmas, he never expected to hear the horrific words “Your brother has been shot.” A rush of confusion and questions suddenly clouded his mind. Chuck quickly called the station, receiving no answers. He hastily got dressed and went to search for answers and his brother, Officer Jack Maguire.
After calling multiple hospitals and receiving no straight answer, Chuck called two of his neighbors, who are doctors, to see if they could find out any information for him. Jack was at Lahey Hospital.
“So I went from my house in Reading, by the scene. I don’t know why I did that,” Chuck said.
It is the easiest route to get to the hospital, but could have definitely been avoided.
“The first person I saw was a state trooper with a machine gun. M16.”
Chuck identified himself to the trooper and spoke with some of the other officers on the scene, but they all only told him the same thing: “Jack is at Lahey.”
Chuck barged into the hospital through the ambulance entrance. He was the first person to arrive at the hospital. He saw two Woburn firemen at the entrance and asked how Jack was doing.
“I said: ‘How’s things going?’ They wouldn’t answer me. If things were well they would have said ‘yeah he’s’…but when someone doesn’t answer you,” said Chuck.
The doctors stopped him right then at the door, saying they were working on Jack. At the desk, a girl at the computer was asking for Jack’s name, birthday and other paperwork information. Chuck started to get irritated because Jack had been at this same hospital a year before for two heart stints. Tension was rising and Chuck continued to try to gain more information from the doctor. The girl at the computer than repeated a code.
“She turned and he announced the code that he just died...so I was there when he died.”
In the small town of Woburn, Massachusetts, underage drinking behind the high school used to be one of the greater problems for the police department. Since the department’s inception in 1848, no officer had been killed in the line of duty until the horrific night of December 26th 2010. Officer Jack Maguire of the Woburn Police Department was shot four times by Dominic Cinelli following the armed robbery of Kohl’s Department Store on the Woburn/Reading line. In the midst of the gunfight, Maguire was able to fire two shots, one hitting and killing Dominic Cinelli. Maguire bled to death in the snow while the scene was being secured. He was pronounced dead at the hospital. Officer Maguire leaves behind his wife, Desiree, three children and his brother Chuck. Officer Maguire had celebrated his 60th birthday three days before his death, and had given notice of his intention to retire in October 2011.
Parole is intended to be a method of rehabilitation, but this rehabilitation is questioned when repeat violent offenders continue to reoffend. In the face of grief after losing Officer Maguire, the Woburn community asks how many chances these repeat offenders are going to receive before enough is enough.
Lieutenant Robert Ferullo is known in the Woburn area for his administrative and education work with the town youth. On December 26th, however, a blizzard created white out conditions that made it necessary for extra supervisors to be put on duty. Ferullo wanted to go on the road that night, quickly volunteering. It was 8:45 p.m., when the snows peaceful silence was suddenly shaken by a violent turn of events.
“Every phone lit up all at once and there were people there saying they were watching a robbery,” said Ferullo.
Ferullo immediately called the Medford police department for back up. It was known from the start this night could easily turn deadly.
A forty-caliber gun was held at point blank range at two female clerks behind the jewelry counter at the Kohl’s store. As Dominic Cinelli held the gun to their heads, he demanded they open the safe. Cinelli then fled the scene until he met the first officer on scene in the parking lot. The officer was exiting his patrol vehicle to stop Cinelli. Unfortunately, the officer is left-handed. Being a left handed police officer put him at a dangerous disadvantage: when exiting the squad car, the left hand is needed to open the door so he did not have a hand on his gun for protection. According to Ferullo, Cinelli pointed the gun directly at the officer’s head and said, “Don’t do anything stupid”. Cinelli continued on, getting closer to a highly populated area of east Woburn and also getting closer to the second officer on the scene, Maguire.The night of Dominic Cinelli’s Kohl’s robbery proved to be Maguire’s shining moment as a police officer. Seeing the direction of the foot pursuit, he drove his cruiser to prevent the escape of the gunman into a residential area on Washington Street. Getting out of his squad car, a gunfight ensued. Cinelli fired four shots, two hitting Maguire. After being hit, Maguire sent two shots, one hitting Dominic Cinelli in the chest and killing him. After the scene was secured and Maguire was sent in the ambulance to Lahey, a massive search for the other two people assisting Cinelli in the robbery ensued. The white out conditions made the search even more difficult. The others involved were found and then taken into custody.
In a recent turn of events Dominic Cinelli’s brother, Arthur, was indicted as an accessory to the murder of Officer Maguire. Authorities allege Arthur, at home recovering from hip surgery at the time, sent his brother text messages advising him on ways to carry out the armed robbery of the Kohl’s department store jewelry section, which led to the death of Officer Maguire.
“The two brothers should not have been out on the street. The other brother shot a friend of mine, Dick McGlynn, a cop back in Medford in the seventies, and here he is doing the same thing again in my opinion. That’s where the change needs to come,” Mahoney said.
Dominic Cinelli also had a long history of criminal actions and jail time. Cinelli was granted parole in 2008 by the Massachusetts State Parole Board, despite his three life sentences for attempted murder, armed robbery and other armed assaults -- among his seventy-plus other convictions. It is also known that Cinelli was a long time heroin addict, an addiction on the rise in Woburn.
“So I lost an officer, the city has lost a good friend in Officer Maguire, and his wife and family will never see him again. And that’s all because this person was out on the street,” said Mahoney.
Forty percent of violent criminals released under the current Massachusetts parole laws then commit more murders, rapes, armed assaults, robberies, home invasions, and other crimes. After the unnecessary death of Officer Maguire, Governor Deval Patrick was under major pressure to address this high recidivism rate, this bad parole decision and this overall poorly regulated parole system. He answered the backlash with mass resignations and a major review of the parole board. Five of the seven parole board members resigned as a result of the death of Maguire. The members on the board at the time of the 2008 decision who voted to grant Cinelli parole are as follows: Mark Conrad, Doris Dottridge, Candace Kochin, Pamela Lombardini, Thomas Merigan and Leticia Munoz. The two board members that remained were not on the board of the time of the Cinelli decision. The Secretary of Public Safety was also immediately suspended, beginning the trend of the termination process for other staff members who held key positions during this period. This includes the Chief of Field Services, the Field Office Supervisor and the parole officer in charge of supervising Cinelli at the time of this most recent offense. The Chief of Transitional Services was also suspended.
“The facts surrounding this decision and the consequences resulting from it demand action to maintain the public's faith in the Parole Board and to protect the integrity of parole itself," Patrick said during a press conference on January 13.
Mark Conrad, the chair of the parole board at the time of the 2008 Cinelli hearing, refused to comment on his resignation.
“I think I made myself clear to the public when I resigned and thought that it was in the best interest of the criminal justice system. No one person or persons are bigger than the system itself and I understand that I respectfully would not be an issue for the Governor, nor would I place myself ahead of the public interest,” Conrad said through email.
Conrad, hand selected by the governor for this position on the parole board, was a friend of Patrick previous to his time on the board. Conrad used to be Patrick’s driver.
In Patrick’s administrative review of the Cinelli parole case, there were many inadequacies leading up to Cinelli’s November 2008 parole hearing and his supervision in the community upon his release from MCI Norfolk in March 2009.
Field Services, responsible for monitoring all those released under parole, failed in their duties. The Chief of Field Services stated that he believed that even though the officer supervising Cinelli did not make the required collateral contacts for five months in a row, that the supervision was still “adequate”.
The Transitional Services Unit, responsible for preparing cases to be heard by the Parole Board and notifying appropriate parties of the hearing, also clearly fell short in Cinelli’s 2008 hearing. The summary of the facts provided to the board did not accurately represent the violence of Cinelli’s crimes, nor did the unit notify the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office of the hearing. Further adding to the confusion, the investigation after the December 26 shooting led to the identification of a second record belonging to Cinelli under the name Salvatore Demarco. This record was not before the parole board in the 2008 hearing. What's more, in 2008 the board did not use what they call an evidence based risk assessment tool as part of their evaluation for parole appropriateness. Chuck Maguire, also a probation officer, said this same risk assessment tool is used in probation decisions and has been used for 20 years. Had this system been in effect for parole, Cinelli would have scored a nine out of 10 on the recidivate scale.
As part of the administrative changes, Joshua Wall, the first assistant District Attorney in Suffolk County, began his new job as the parole office's interim executive director in January. Patrick has also named Wall to be board chairman. Wall said he had never previously thought about being the parole board chairman, the change being very rapid after the mass resignations. The adjustment has proven to be difficult without the assistance of senior management that had resigned prior to his hiring. However, Wall’s past as a District Attorney is proving to be a helpful background in that they are both similar subject matters with similar standings on justice. In regard to the Cinelli case, Wall believes mistakes were made.
“His degree of previous criminal activity suggested a sociopath and he should not have been paroled,” Wall said.
Many are pleased with this new instatement, feeling Wall is the perfect man for the job.
“He should have justice on his mind, not bad guys going to jail and not good guys staying out. Find out the truth…that’s why I believe that a District Attorney, if he carries that creed into this forum, would be great,” Ferullo said.
Wall believes parole is a necessary system in the judiciary system, believing everyone deserves a second chance. He said that is important to remember that 95 percent of convicted inmates will return back into society at some point. Studies show that a person released into the community without supervision is at a greater risk of committing more offenses than a person who is released into the community, but still has supervision and services provided.
“That is the theory of parole, if the inmate is released at a time where we can still supervise him and provide services and provide some accountability, including re-incarceration if necessary, that that will give that inmate a better chance of succeeding without committing another offense,” said Wall.
Wall hopes to exemplify this belief during his time on the board, aiming to reduce the recidivism rate further.
Woburn’s tragedy and the failures of the parole board are finally starting to bring about legislative change as well to deal with repeat violent offenders. Three bills were presented at a judiciary hearing at the State House on March 16th. The entire building was buzzing with excitement and filled with high emotional tension. The doors were constantly filled with traffic from people hurriedly putting the final touches on their testimonies for the hearings in the afternoon. The most inspirational sight of the day was the large assembly of Chief of Police from all over Massachusetts, standing in the back of the judiciary hearing room as testimonies took place.
One bill presented at the hearing, Melissa’s Bill, has been in the works for 10 years. Melissa Gosule, for whom the bill was named, was viscously tied to a tree, raped and murdered by Michael Gentile in 1999. Melissa’s car had broken down and this stranger had offered to give her a ride. She called her parents from the car to let them know where to meet her. But Melissa was never dropped off. What she didn’t realize when she entered the car was that Gentile was convicted of 27 previous felonies, only serving two years of his sentence before being released on parole.
“The idea that someone goes into jail, gets a bible, takes some anger management classes and says ‘I’m really a good person right now, I’m not that bad person any longer’ and then someone says okay…that’s ridiculous, ” said Les Gosule, Melissa’s father.
Melissa would have been 39 years old if she was alive today. Melissa was extremely involved with community service, helping kids in Jamaican Plains learn English, raising money for AIDS and participating in the Walk for Hunger.
“She was a genuine, down-to-earth lady who had a lot of love. And she loved me and I loved her,” said Gosule.
The family is pushing for Melissa’s bill- which is actually 2 bills, H.434 and S. 891- because they hope no other family has to go through this same type of pain. Representatives Bruce Tarr and James J. Dwyer are also sponsoring this bipartisan bill.
“You can’t legislate common sense; you can’t get a college degree in common sense. In this particular case I think common sense would tell you that this man should have never ever, ever been walking these streets,” said Dwyer.
The bills call to make habitually violent felons ineligible for parole, requiring them to serve their full prison sentences upon their third or more felony conviction. It also requires violent felons convicted three or more times to serve their latest prison sentence consecutive to completion of any previous un-served sentence (no more package deals); requires a sentence raise from 15 years to 25 years the minimum time which must be served on a single life sentence before parole eligibility and eliminates any parole eligibility for multiple life sentences. The goal of these bills is to make changes in state parole board procedures to ensure greater transparency, accountability and regulations.
Keeping with transparency, the bipartisan bill will also strive to make regulations to the actual parole board. This would include limiting terms to ten consecutive years, having seven members- two members having to be law enforcement officers, posting hearing results on the Internet and others. According to the sponsors of this bill, had these regulations been in place earlier some of these tragedies may not have occurred. During the judicial hearing, it is the victims’ families that testified for this bill, along with other Massachusetts’ representatives.
“No one can listen to their testimony and not be moved to action. The question is what type of action will be made,” said Tarr.
The Gosule family has been fighting to get these bills out of the hearing phase and actually put to a vote in the House. Gosule believes there are a few reasons why the bill has faced so much opposition in the past, though he does not understand them. Many fear by passing this bill that the rights of judges will be taken away, but Gosule said that at this point responsibility should be on the state, not the judges who keep exercising these reduced sentences. Others fear that any person with three or more felonies will be banned from parole. Gosule counters this by stating he is only targeting the most viscous, dangerous criminals. In 2009, the parole board was supervising 7,901 parolees. As of January 2011, 341 of the parolees were sentenced to life. Of those “lifers”, 90 percent were serving one life sentence, the remainder serving between two and five. The bill would be targeting that small percentage of criminals if they recidivate.
“I don’t think stealing a pizza falls under the term violent offenders, even if you burn the pizza, it's still not violent,” Gosule said.
Still, there is much debate over what should be done to change the parole system, if anything at all. According to the 2009 review of the Massachusetts parole system, 877 parolees - 11 percent of the total supervised - were arrested by parole officers and returned to custody. Eight percent of the total supervised were arrested for technical violations of conditions of parole, and three percent of the total supervised were arrested for new charges. Overall in Massachusetts in 2009, 78 percent of parolees successfully completed their parole, compared to the national average of 51 percent from 2009 according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Yet, if in comparison we are doing so well, why does it seem that our system is failing us? Still, the United States has the highest incarceration rate of any other place in the world. In 1983, there were 300,000 people in jails across the nation. There are over 2.3 million people incarcerated as of 2008, with over five million people on probation or parole.
By looking at other states' programs we learn faults and possible advantages of our system. In Maryland, the governor decides on life parole decisions. However, silenced politics are created because the governor has influence in whether the parole board member will continue a new term or not, possibly swaying their philosophy on other votes. Roland Knapp, former director of the Division of Parole and Probation in the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services and an adjunct professor in criminal justice at Towson State University, says that as a nation we need to make a decision for what we are doing in the justice system: punishment or preparation. Once this decision is made financial decisions surrounding the system will be less foggy and controversial.
“One of the functions of parole has been to be a release valve for the prison system and it is a way of helping to control the population, as well as controlling the financial commitment,” Knapp said.
The real issue for many lies in the national issue of the want for public safety and the monetary means required for safety to be insured. Prisons cost taxpayers more than $32 billion a year. This means that every year an inmate spends in prison costs $22,000. In some states, it can cost up to $40,000 a year to keep a 19-year-old in jail for drug possession. According to Ioanide, between 1982 and 1999 there was a 975 percent increase in drug offense convictions, this stricter drug legislation filled prisons even faster. The cost of a life term averages $1.5 million. States are spending more money on prisons than education. Over the course of the last 20 years, the amount of money spent on prisons was increased by 570 percent while that spent on elementary and secondary education was increased by only 33 percent, according to the Hearts and Minds Network.
The question then becomes what is the value of human life and public safety.
“The most violent of the violent need to be locked up forever or pretty damn close because we lose people all the time and most of the victims are people like you; it’s the general public,” said Mahoney.
Mahoney said he understands the financial benefits of keeping people on parole, but the safety of the general public is more important. Building jails and keeping jails at full capacity have actually been used since the 1980’s as an economic stimulus. It is within the states interest and corporations that have a vested interest in prisons to keep them at full capacity or they start losing money. In the late 1970’s, a massive recession was underway, but to counter this there was an attempt to raise the housing market to bring in more money. At the time, Reagan specifically thought that to create economic stimulus building prisons was the best way to stimulate spending and money flow. Each prison was from $250 to $380 million to build. Of course the government at this time didn’t have the money to spend for this, but they did have the ability to borrow against public debt.Gosule believes these politics of parole and incarceration seem to be overshadowing the victims. However, he is by far not the only one calling for stricter parole reforms in Massachusetts. Many other state representatives are supporters of this bill or sponsoring one of the other bills that also calls for stricter reforms. Representatives Campbell, Jones, and many others are also sponsors of the bipartisan bills proposed, wanting to promote public safety as a priority in their own districts. Representative Hill is also proposing a bill, similar to California’s current three-strike policy.
Governor Patrick is also putting forth his own bill. A main part of his bill states that after the third offense by a violent repeat offender, the offender must serve two thirds of his sentence before being allowed to apply for parole. This is more than the current policy, which says that half the sentence must be served, however it is less strict than the rest of the proposed legislature that would make it impossible to receive parole until the entire time of the third sentence is served. Patrick’s bill also makes habitual offenders ineligible for probation. It requires the maximum punishment for third felony conviction, that sentence having to be served consecutive to any prior sentence. Patrick’s bill makes no changes to the parole process, however it specifies that the court must impose a minimum sentence of 15 years before being eligible for parole for anyone receiving a life sentence. For the parole board voting stipulations, there is also no change. Patrick does mandate in the bill the use of evidence-based risk assessment in every single release decision. His bill does not address parole board terms, appointments, removals, nominations, or law force experience.
Leslie Walker, Prisoner’s Legal Services, is unhappy with the bills being presented and with the overall approach of how things have been handled by Patrick since the Woburn tragedy.
“I think the Governor went after for with which he could have used a scalpel, a sledge hammer,” Walker said.
Walker said that the purge of the parole board has caused no parole hearings for two weeks, as of March 16. Clients have reported that parole granting has come to a standstill and Massachusetts is already starting to see those effects in increased overcrowding in the jail systems. In Walker’s opinion, parole is public safety. She argues overall the success rate for lifers is one of the highest rates in the nation, according to the Coalition for Affective Public Safety. There will always be exceptions, such as Cinelli.
“I don’t think they made a mistake. They had a person in front of them with a spotless record for over a decade, who had taken every program that was asked of him, who had a place to live, who had skills, who had a job to go to; and that’s their job to look at is this person ready? And should we take a calculated risk that this person is not going to reoffend?” Walker said.
Walker said as a state we cannot afford to pass bad legislature in a time of crisis and understandable rush. In Senator Hill’s three strikes bill, similar to California’s current policy, every felony is included as a potential second and third strike for violent repeat offenders. Washington was the first state to adopt a “Three Strikes and You’re Out” law in 1993; thirteen states and a federal version of three strikes followed in 1994; nine more states adopted similar laws in 1995. In California, the most known for the policy because its great economic costs and effect on crime, there was severe overcrowding in jails, causing the court to shut prisons down and to release tens of thousands of prisoners. Though the crime rate in California fell after the instatement of the three strike policy, there is research that implies that the money spent on the additional prisons required to house additional people convicted and incarcerated would actually prevent far more crimes if it were invested in prevention programs instead. Even with this incarceration jump, the California three strikes bill only enumerated 42 different felonies to count toward a second or third strike in this bill. Massachusetts has over 600 crimes on the books in some of the suggested legislature, according to Walker. However, many do contest this economical problem, saying one has to look at it with a human perspective.
“You’re going to put a price tag on a security guard who’s doing a part time job trying to help his family and is shot by Cinelli? We’re going to put a price tag on public safety? That’s outrageous,” said Dwyer.
On the other hand, with the mass releases in California of criminals not approved to be released by a parole board, it can easily be argued that the overcrowding led to this even more threatening public safety issue. In Alabama, their habitual offender policy is referred to as the “three-strikes-and-you’re-out” law, deemed to be one of the harshest habitual offender laws in the nation. More than half of the nearly 8,600 habitual offenders were given tougher or "enhanced" sentences after their latest conviction for property or drug crimes, according to the Alabama Sentencing Commission's preliminary 2006 report. This does not mean violent crimes were not committed in the past, but in most cases the law gives little to no weight to a prior offense. They are then considered felons and lose their status in society.
“It’s the most egregious form of law you can possibly imagine. I mean some people had two previous convictions that were minor misdemeanors and then they get a third one and they were in prison for life”: said Ioanide.
Habitual offenders are inherently one of the most expensive populations in Alabama's prison system due to the population aging over lengthy or lifelong sentences and costing the prison system $112 million a year -- or 36 percent of the fiscal 2006 budget.
Patrick has addressed both concerns of public safety and cost in a recent press statement.
“We need an effective and accountable re-entry program for those leaving the criminal justice system,” said Governor Patrick.
“Combining probation and parole, and requiring supervision after release, takes the best practices from other states to assure both public safety and cost savings.”
Still, some may argue that Massachusetts should have taken a closer look into its own system sooner. Exactly one year prior to Maguire’s shooting- to the exact day, a convenient store worker was brutally shot and killed during an armed robbery by a repeat violent offender. The media gave only a fraction of attention to the death of this immigrant that it gave to the death of Maguire. Questions are being raised that if this uproar and examination into the parole system had happened earlier, would this recent tragedy occurred. Wall said it would not have mattered.
“You don’t look at the facts on a previous inmate to make a decision on the next inmate,” Wall said.
Still, it makes one wonder if things would have ended differently if some of these legal changes that have been in the hearing process for years had been listened to earlier. It took the death of Officer Maguire for people to open their ears and hear the cries for some sort of legislative change- to what extent in which that change will occur, we will have to wait.
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