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Patrick proposes revamped parole laws

Wants stricter rules for repeat offenders

By Michael Rezendes and Maria Cramer
Globe Staff / January 15, 2011

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Acting swiftly after the resignations of five state Parole Board members and a crisis of confidence in public safety, Governor Deval Patrick proposed yesterday a series of changes to state law that would increase the time served by third-time criminal offenders while tightening a variety of eligibility requirements for parole.

If the changes had been in place in 2008, they would have made Domenic Cinelli ineligible for early release until 2030, when he would have been 76 years old, said an administration official. Cinelli, a career criminal who fatally shot Woburn police Officer John Maguire the day after Christmas, was released on parole in 2009 when he was 55, after a 6-to-0 vote by the Parole Board.

In a statement to state lawmakers yesterday, Patrick said he filed the legislation to address “a deep erosion in the public’s confidence in the parole system’’ following the slaying of Maguire, who was responding to an armed robbery of a Kohl’s department store.

Patrick also underscored the value of parole as a means of ensuring public safety, through the supervision of criminals released early from prison, and of controlling the population of a costly and “increasingly overcrowded and volatile prison system.’’

“The reality remains that most people who spend time in prison will return to the community,’’ Patrick said. “A functioning parole system is essential to ensure effective reentry of formerly incarcerated individuals into society.’’

But Republicans said Patrick’s proposal does not go far enough and vowed to continue pushing for passage of a bill known as Melissa’s Law, which would require habitual offenders to serve their maximum sentences without the possibility of parole.

“We’re saying that these people have proven that they cannot be good citizens and need to serve their maximum sentences,’’ said Representative Bradford Hill, an Ipswich Republican and the minority whip. “We’ve seen time and time again that these habitual offenders continue to re-offend once they’re out of prison.’’

The legislation is named in memory of Melissa Gosule, a 27-year-old teacher from Randolph who was killed in 1999 by a repeat offender who had served less than two years, even though he had a record of 27 criminal convictions.

Hill also said Republicans may file additional legislation seeking to impose new restrictions on repeat offenders who have been granted parole.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Josh Wall, the number two prosecutor in Suffolk County named by Patrick to overhaul the Parole Board, said his first priority will be to make sure the board uses “evidence-based risk assessment’’ tools and common sense when it makes parole decisions.

His next priority, he said, will be to improve supervision of parolees convicted of especially violent offenses.

“We will be paroling those who have earned it, and we will be giving them the most adequate and closest supervision necessary while they’re in the community,’’ said Wall, who will start in his new position a week from Monday and later take over as chairman of the Parole Board.

Under current law, third-time offenders who previously were sentenced to two prison terms of three years or more are eligible for parole after serving half of their new sentences, said Gregory I. Massing, the top lawyer at the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.

Patrick’s proposal would permit the Parole Board to consider the release of third-time offenders after they served two-thirds of their sentences, Massing said, whereas Melissa’s Law would make those offenders ineligible for release until they have completed their full sentences.

In a FOX 25 interview yesterday morning, Patrick, making a comparison with the Melissa’s Law proposal, described his plan as “a more sensible one, a little smarter.’’

In addition, Patrick’s legislation would require that habitual offenders who commit crimes while on bail or other forms of supervision begin serving their new sentences only after their previous sentences have been completed. As the law stands, habitual offenders may serve their new sentences at the same time, or concurrently, with earlier sentences.

Massing said this provision, if it had been in place in 2008, would have made Cinelli ineligible for parole until 2030. When he was sentenced for a third string of armed robberies committed in 1985 while he was an escapee, Cinelli was allowed to serve his new sentences, which included one of life in prison, concurrently with his previous sentences.

Other provisions of Patrick’s proposal include a so-called truth in sentencing provision designed to highlight the fact that many of those sentenced to life in prison, including second-degree murderers, become eligible for parole.

Today, Massing said, when judges impose a life sentence for second-degree murder, the public may be unaware that the person sentenced will be eligible for parole in 15 years.

“When someone gets life, the public thinks it means life,’’ he said. “Only the lawyers know it means parole eligibility in 15 years.’’

Under law, only those convicted of first-degree murder may be sentenced to life without parole.

Patrick’s bill would also address the actions of Parole Board members by requiring them to use risk-and-needs-assessment tools when evaluating inmates applying for early release and to use other specific criteria in making their decisions, including disciplinary infractions committed while in prison and the outside resources available to a parolee.

It has been Parole Board policy to make risk and needs assessments since 2009, Massing said, and it has been standard practice to consider other criteria for many years. However, Massing said, Patrick wants to make them matters of law, rather than policy.

Rezendes can be reached at rezendes@globe.com; Cramer at mcramer@globe.com.