Mass. Parole Board blocks the way to justice
Baker should pull his pick in favor of one with background in rehabilitation
Yvonne Abraham’s column “Parole board lacks justice” (Metro, June 23) describes Tina Williams confined by parole for 26 years, but thankfully Williams was out living in her community. Those incarcerated wait in prison for as much as a year for the Massachusetts Parole Board to write up a decision on their case, and often the answer is no.
Parole is about reentry into society; the board decides whether a person is ready to return to society, under supervision, at a cost of $10,000 a year, or whether they should remain inside, at a cost of $70,000 a year.
On Wednesday, the Governor’s Council will vote on whether to appoint Karen McCarthy to the parole board. McCarthy, an attorney, not only comes from a prosecutorial background, like all but one of the current parole board members, but she spent 10 years prosecuting those who violated parole. This is unlikely to have provided her with a balanced view of parolee behavior.
Like many others who packed McCarthy’s hearing last week, I hope that the Governor’s Council will ask Governor Baker to nominate an alternative candidate, one with a background in rehabilitation.
Mass. prisoners have seen decades with barely a shred of clemency
Thanks to Yvonne Abraham for shining a light on inaction and insensitivity on the part of the Massachusetts Parole Board in the case of Tina Williams; however, the problems of the board, and the unwillingness of recent administrations to confront them, transcend any individual case.
One example among many was the subject of a recent report by New York University Law School’s Center on the Administration of Criminal Law, titled “Willie Horton’s Shadow: Clemency in Massachusetts.” Among its devastating findings is that, prior to 1980, when the prison population was much smaller, the parole board, acting as a recommender along with state governors and the Governor’s Council, commuted more than a dozen sentences a year, but the state has commuted only one sentence in the last 22 years. In contrast, in 2018 alone, Michigan’s Republican governor commuted 26 sentences; Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York commuted 29.
Many of the prisoners seeking hearings are aged and pose no threat to public safety. As the NYU report concludes, a functioning clemency system “does more than prevent needless suffering for one person; it incentivizes rehabilitation among those who will not outlive the original terms of their sentences.”
The writer is a professor at Northeastern University School of Law.