Samuel Goldberg has been a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney for 20 years. Prior to that, he was a New York state prosecutor. He has published various articles regarding the practice of criminal law and frequently provides legal analysis on radio and television, appearing on outlets such as the Fox News Channel, Court TV, MSNBC and The BBC Network. To speak to Sam about a criminal matter call (617) 492 3000.

MASSACHUSETTS PAROLE BOARD IS HAVING SOME PREDICTABLE PROBLEMS

Hmm… I wonder if you see a connection between two stories in yesterday’s news.

First of all, it seems that the number of Massachusetts prison inmates granted parole has dropped significantly this past year. You may recall that, during this year, the state Parole Board was overhauled in the wake of a paroled gentleman murdering a Woburn police officer after release.

According to prisoner advocacy groups, the number of inmates released on parole in 2011 was 435. In 2010, the number was 1,028.

Meanwhile, the new board is having problems of its own. It is dealing with a backlog which it conveniently blames on the prior Parole Board.

An example of the result of this backlog? Well, some inmates were actually granted parole by the parole board since last April. The only problem is that none of these inmates, nor their families, have been advised of that fact.

Don’t worry…the Board does not play favorites. Those whose pleas for parole were rejected have also not been so notified.

Prisoner advocates say the delays, coupled with stricter standards for releasing other inmates on parole, have contributed heavily to a 58 percent drop in the number of inmates who are released under parole supervision putting upward pressure on the state prison population.

“The total effect is more people in prison overall, and fewer people released under supervision,” said James R. Pingeon of Prisoners’ Legal Services, a group that provides representation to inmates. “It’s doubly bad.”

Now, the Parole Board chairman, recently-former Assistant District Attorney Josh Wall, defends his agency’s performance, arguing that the new board is simply being more careful while coping with a shortage of resources.

He attributed the delays in notifying inmates about their parole requests to a backlog of cases left by the previous board, more rigorous scrutiny of parole applications, and a staff shortage.

“The priority is public safety,” Wall said, adding that he has chosen to leave several administrative posts vacant in favor of hiring more parole officers, who have been on the job for several months. “We have limited resources and limited personnel.”

You don’t see this as a problem because, after all, we are talking about criminals here?

Well, guess what? It seems that the inmates are not the only ones effected by the long wait. Victims’ advocates say that families also suffer when the Parole Board takes so long to announce decisions. Victims’ family members frequently testify at parole hearings, then wait anxiously to learn if their loved one’s killer will be set free.

Laurie Myers, the executive director of Community Voices, a child protection and victim advocacy organization, said “a little extra consideration” of lifer parole applications could enhance public safety. But she said unreasonable delays can be a disservice to victims and their families.

“The system owes it to [victims’ families] to move speedily and give them whatever information it has so they can move forward with their lives,” she said.

The problem goes even farther. Inmate advocates say the Parole Board also takes much too long to decide whether parolees may have violated the terms of their parole and should go back to prison. The result is apparently that parolees get locked up for six months or more while awaiting a decision, far longer than the 60 days that advocates regard as reasonable.

In other words, one can wait for six months in custody only to find out they did not violate parole. Again, not so sympathetic for the criminal? How about those who wait for six months outside of custody when, in fact, they end up being found to have violated parole?

“The delay in the revocation process is inexcusable and unlawful,” said Pingeon, the litigation director at Prisoners’ Legal Services, citing a US Supreme Court ruling from the 1970s that calls for a ruling within a reasonable time.

Attorney Sam’s Take On Prison, Parole And Reality

if I truly hated to say I told you so, then I guess I would be a rather depressed man. Because I do seem to have occasion to say it an awful lot in the Boston Criminal Lawyer Blog.

I had a good amount to say, both in main media and this blog back when Mr.Defendant killed the police officer and everybody rushed to blame the Parole Board for having ever released him in the first place. You may want to check out the postings for January 14, 2011, when all this originally broke, as well as the WBZ interview segment located here.

The entire Parole Board was revamped and former Assistant District Attorney Joshua Wall was placed at the helm. I know Josh. He is a very good, and very tough, prosecutor.

It seemed clear, between the overwhelming and somewhat bloodthirsty publicity and Ada Wall’s talents, that the doors to freedom via parole was were about to slam shut.

And they did.

It is another one of those many times when the instant feel good solution turns out not to be so great. In fact, it makes the problem a bit worse.

Yeah, we’ve been talking about alot of those lately.

“How did it make the problem worse, Sam?”

Because, in an effort to rush to the “more tough on crime now” position, a tough, seasoned, and perhaps alittle jaded, prosecutor has been placed in charge of who gets out of prison when. This, in an atmosphere suggesting very strongly that far fewer people better be walking out of those gates sooner than possible brought a .
predictable result.

The image of the fox guarding the henhouse comes to mind.

You cannot blame Mr. Wall. He is the same hard worker he always was. The only question, though, is whether someone in his position was the best one for the job. I suppose it was at a time where it was more important to be seen as addressing the problem than really addressing the problem.

As I said…alot of that lately. See many other blogs…!

You cannot keep everybody behind bars. It does not work. It gets out of control. And that is precisely what is happening now. One wonders what will happen when the lawsuits for false imprisonment or cruel and unusual punishment start taking even more prominence in these cases.

For all you “it’s good he was able to save some money for the Commonwealth” types…do you think those lawsuits will cost less money to defend…and settle?

For the original stories upon which this blog is based, please go to http://mobile.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2012/03/26/fewer_mass_inmates_being_granted_parole/ and http://mobile.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2012/03/26/state_parole_board_approves_release_of_serious_offenders_but_fails_to_tell_inmates/

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