State representative, Boston Democrat
To end mass incarceration, we must ensure parole review for all. Massachusetts is tied with Louisiana as the state with the highest percentage of persons serving life without parole compared to its overall prison population, according to a 2021 study by The Sentencing Project. The report said there are more people serving life-without-parole sentences in Massachusetts than our entire prison population in 1970. And we have three times as many people serving life-without-parole sentences than New York, a state with more than three times our population.
To deem people, particularly those convicted in their youth, as not just incapable, but unworthy of redemption is fundamentally immoral. Representative Jay Livingstone and I filed An Act to reduce mass incarceration (H1797) to guarantee people serving a life sentence the opportunity for a parole review and hearing after 25 years in prison. Ensuring parole review for all does not mean automatic release for all. Some of those serving life sentences will never be released. As with anyone seeking parole, they would need to meet specific criteria for release, including evidence that they had been rehabilitated. And even if released, they would need to abide by specific conditions set by the state Parole Board.
In Massachusetts 34 percent of those serving life without parole are Black, yet Black people comprise only 9 percent of the state’s population. Massachusetts ranks first in the nation for racial disparities in incarceration rates of Hispanic residents, and 12th for Black residents. This is a racial justice issue and our Commonwealth’s overuse of life-without-parole sentences is disproportionately impacting Black and Brown families and communities.
I, too, am a survivor. My brother Michael was shot and killed outside of a Boston nightclub in 2017. I came to the State House in 2019 with an intimate understanding of mass incarceration, community violence, and what restorative justice can and should look like in Massachusetts. Justice, for me, does not include sentencing another son, brother, or father in our community to death by another name without the opportunity for redemption.
Please join me alongside survivors, loved ones, advocates, and scholars across the Commonwealth in ending this inhumane practice of life-without-parole sentences and build a future that centers restorative justice, accountability, and responsibility.
Andover resident, mother of murder victim Colleen Ritzer
On Oct. 22, 2013, our 24-year-old daughter, Colleen, packed her bag to go to school to teach high school math. She never came home. One of her students packed his bag to take a life. He came to school with a weapon, multiple changes of clothing, a mask, gloves, and a terrible purpose — to take a teacher’s life. Premeditated murder with extreme atrocity and cruelty means the individual chose to callously take a life in the most horrific way. Some lawmakers want to give the option of parole for these individuals. Their efforts are not only wrong but painful.
Lost in this discussion of life without parole are the rights of the deceased and their families: the victims. When our daughter’s life was so brutally taken, her killer faced a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Unfortunately, just months after her death, the state’s Supreme Judicial Court ruled that juveniles could no longer be sentenced to life without parole, and made that ruling retroactive. As a result, while he was responsible for taking a life, the perpetrator of this crime will be afforded a second chance at life.
Colleen and our family will never get a second chance. Our family will be victimized again when her killer becomes eligible for parole. We will attend parole hearings and relive the horrific details of that tragic day. We will be reminded of the terror and pain Colleen endured during the final moments of her life. Our family will never find peace knowing that this individual could one day be released and inflict unfathomable pain upon another individual and their family.
Those convicted of first-degree murder shouldn’t get a second chance. They should live out their lives in prison. There must be accountability. The victim’s life must matter. Parole for those convicted of first-degree murder is not justice. Those who kill deserve to lose their freedom, live out their lives in prison, and die alone in prison.
Massachusetts must stop putting killers first and instead, put victims first. Colleen’s life mattered. Her killer’s life no longer should. Although the outcome for us cannot be changed, do not force other families to endure endless pain and suffering. Instead, support justice for the victims.
As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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