Parole Board Composition Emergency

NOMINATIONS TO THE PAROLE BOARD:  A CALL TO ACTION    

On February 6, 2013, the Governor made two nominations to the Parole Board: Tonomey Coleman, a criminal defense attorney, nominated to fill the vacancy left by board member Roger Michel who resigned in November, 2012; and Lucy Soto-Abbe, a sitting board member whose term of office expired on June 2, 2012.  Despite the fact that her term of office expired, Ms. Soto-Abbe has continued to sit at parole hearings and vote on cases. She has now been re-nominated to a second term on the Board. 

At present, our Parole Board has five members with backgrounds in law enforcement.  We have three former prosecutors (Chairman Josh Wall, Ina Howard-Hogan and Cesar Archilla) and a former Department of Correction administrator (Sheila Dupre). Ms. Soto-Abbe worked for seventeen years as a victim witness advocate at the Hampden District Attorney’s office. There is only one member who does not come from law enforcement, Charlene Bonner, Ph.D., a psychologist who previously worked as a court clinician.  We need to diversify the membership so that we have better informed parole hearings and decisions.

While we are pleased that the Governor has nominated a criminal defense attorney to the Parole Board, we are still concerned about the over-representation of members with law enforcement backgrounds on the Board and the re-nomination of someone who does not bring more sorely-needed diversification to the Board.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:  

Call or email your Governor’s Councillor and advocate that the Governor use this opportunity to appoint someone with expertise in  treating substance abuse/addiction and recovery, such as a social worker, a psychologist or a psychiatrist to the Parole Board.  

  • Tell your Governor’s Councillor that we do not need another person with a law enforcement background.  Explain to your Councillor that he or she should vote “yes” on Tonomey Coleman’s nomination and “no” on Lucy Soto-Abbe’s nomination.  
  • Explain to your Governor’s Councillor that: Drug and alcohol abuse are involved in the vast majority of crimes committed in Massachusetts.  At present, no board members have expertise in the critical areas of substance abuse, addiction and recovery. These issues are often misunderstood, improperly evaluated or ignored by the present board members. We need a second new Board member who fits this profile.

Come to the public hearing at the Governor’s Council on February 27, 2013, and support this campaign.  Tell the Councillors about the problems at the Parole Board.  The hearings are at 11:00am (Tonomey Coleman) and 1:00pm (Lucy Soto-Abbe) in room 360 at the State House.  YOUR PRESENCE IS IMPORTANT.

 

 BACKGROUND INFO

 

 I.   PAROLE RELEASE RATES HAVE DROPPED SIGNIFICANTLY SINCE THE NEW BOARD BEGAN CONDUCTING HEARINGS IN APRIL OF 2011.

 

Lower parole release rates are contributing to the state’s overcrowding crisis and do nothing to promote public safety.

 

Under the current Board, the number of prisoners released on parole has plummeted.

  • For the first nine months of 2012, the Parole Board reports that its “favorable vote” rate for DOC prisoners was 50%.  In fact, this “favorable vote” rate significantly overestimates the number of prisoners actually released on parole.  The number of DOC prisoners actually released on parole during those nine months was 435 people, a 40% decline in the actual parole rate compared to the same period in 2010.

 

2010 (Old Board)

2011 (Current Board)

STATE Prisoners Released on Parole

891

395

Percentage of Eligible STATE Prisoners Released on Parole

42%

26%

 

2010 (Old Board)

2011 (Current Board)

COUNTY Prisoners Released on Parole

3417

2008

Percentage of all Eligible COUNTY Prisoners Released on Parole

40%

28%

 

  • The Parole Board publishes statistics on its “favorable vote” rate, which the Board refers to as its “paroling rate”, rather than statistics on the actual number of prisoners who walk out of the prison doors on parole.  A “favorable vote” is a vote where the prisoner will be granted parole after he or she completes certain conditions.  For example, if a DOC prisoner is told he will be paroled after he has completed a year in a minimum security prison and then six months in a pre-release prison, all without receiving any disciplinary reports and with satisfactory program participation, the Parole Board will count that as a positive or favorable vote for parole even though the prisoner may never be paroled and could wrap-up his sentence in prison.  The “favorable vote” rate is also misleading because it excludes prisoners who choose to waive their parole hearing; the number of waivers has increased significantly under the present Board because prisoners do not wish to subject themselves to the stress of a hearing when there is little chance they will be released.

 

II.   MS. SOTO-ABBE HAS CONTRIBUTED TO THIS DRAMATIC DROP IN PAROLERATES AS WELL AS TO OTHER PROBLEMS WITH PAROLE.

 

Lucy Soto-Abbe has been part of this dramatic drop in parole.

  • Lucy Soto-Abbe was one of five new members of the Parole Board appointed in 2011 after the Governor, in January of that year, forced the resignations of the five members who had voted to parole Dominic Cinelli.
  • As noted above, state prisoners saw their true parole rate drop from 42% in 2010 (before the “old Board”) to 26 percent in 2011(before the “new Board”).  Similarly, from 2010 to 2011, county parole rates dropped from 40% to 28%.  Ms. Soto-Abbe was on the Board during all of these votes.

 

Lucy Soto-Abbe has been part of the Board’s almost complete failure to parole lifers.

  • Two hundred nineteen (219) lifer hearings were conducted between April 14, 2011 (when the new Board members began hearing lifer cases) and October 25, 2012.  Decisions from 111 of these hearings were posted on the Parole Board’s website as of October 25, 2012. Of those decisions, 100 were unanimous, showing a remarkable similarity of thought between board members. Only two individuals, however, were released from prison into the community as a result of those two hundred nineteen hearings.[1]  Two men died before receiving a published decision and one man died in prison after waiting five months to be released on a positive parole vote to a veterans’ community facility.

 

Lucy Soto-Abbe has been part of the inordinate delays lifers face in receiving their decisions.

  • In Massachusetts, the current average wait between the release hearing and receipt of the written decision is 262 days, with the longest wait 537 days—nearly a year and a half. Prior Parole Boards generally issued lifer decisions within four to eight weeks of the hearing. Waiting anywhere from eight months to eighteen months for a decision has made lifers, their families, and their representatives feel extremely disparaged by the Parole Board.

 

Lucy Soto-Abbe has been part of the Board’s habit of re-trying the underlying crimes and making Parole Release Hearings adversarial.

 

  • The hearings are often adversarial because prisoners are cross-examined repeatedly about the facts of their crimes.  Board members do not ask meaningful questions about recovery from mental illness, about the effect of a person’s participation in sex offender treatment programs, about addiction programs and other treatment programs, because they do not have the expertise to explore these areas.  However, 25% of the people in our state prisons are receiving treatment for mental illness and 16% of the prisoners in the state system are serving time for a sexual offense. Drug and alcohol addiction plays a role in the vast majority of crimes.  We feel members from other disciplines would balance the approach of members from law-enforcement backgrounds.

 

Having a victim’s rights advocate on the Parole Board should be not be a priority at this time. 

  • Victims already have a strong voice at sentencing hearings and they have a statutory right to be heard at all lifer parole hearings, and all other hearings which involve a death or a sex offense or other violent crimes.  The Parole Board has a very active victims’ services unit. Taking up one more spot on this already law enforcement orientated Board with a victim’s rights advocate when we do not have anyone on the Board who understands substance abuse makes no sense.

 

CONCLUSION   

Our system of parole only works when the Parole Board is made up of people who have the education, experience and expertise that is necessary to properly evaluate candidates for parole. According to all available data, as the Parole Board gains more and more law enforcement members, the parole rates drop correspondingly and precipitously.  As more and more people wrap-up their sentences behind the prison walls and are released to the streets without supervision or services, both the prisoners’ ability to succeed and public safety are compromised.  When parole rates drop, the rates of recidivism rise.  A lack of diversification on the Parole Board also leads to less informed parole hearings and decisions.  We need additional persons who have the education, training and experience to identify causal factors, understand them, and be able to reasonably predict future behavior. The need for a psychologist, social worker or psychiatrist with expertise in substance abuse/addiction and recovery and a criminal defense attorney on this Parole Board to balance the law enforcement perspective is profound.

 JOIN US IN THIS IMPORTANT CAMPAIGN.  Please call your Governor’s Councillor and tell him or her to vote “yes” on Tonomey Coleman and “no” on Lucy Soto-Abbe.

Thank you,

Coalition for Effective Public Safety
Prisoners’ Legal Services
Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

Real Cost of Prisons Project

Blackstonian

Occupy the Hood Boston

National Lawyers Guild- Massachusetts Chapter

 

GOVERNOR’S COUNCILHere are the phone numbers/email addresses to usebut if you do not know the name of your Councillor go to: http://www.wheredoivotema.com/bal/myelectioninfo.php
or call 617-725-4016 ex. 0 and ask for help.  

    

  1. Oliver P. Cipollini, Jr. – District 1
    20 Biscayne Drive
    Marstons Mills, MA 02648
    GC: 617-725-4015, ext. 1
    Res: 508-428-8782
    Fax: 617-727-6610
    Email: ocipollini@aol.com
  2. Robert L. Jubinville – District 2
    487 Adams Street
    Milton, MA 02186
    GC: 617-725-4015, ext. 2
    Bus: 800-828-9010
    Fax: 617-698-8004
    Email: Jubinville@comcast.net
  3. Marilyn M. Petitto Devaney – District 3
    98 Westminster Avenue
    Watertown, MA 02472
    GC: 617-725-4015 ext. 3
    Cell: 617-840-7689
    Fax: 617-727-6610
    Email: marilynpetittodevaney@gmail.com
  4. Christopher A. Iannella – District 4
    263 Pond Street
    Boston, MA 02130
    GC: 617-725-4015 ext. 4
    Bus: 617-227-1538
    Fax: 617-742-1424
    Email: caiannella@aol.com
  5. Eileen R. Duff – District 5
    8 Barberry Heights Road
    Gloucester, MA 01930
    GC: 617-725-4015 ext. 5
    Res: 978-927-8700
    Fax: 617-727-6610
    Email: eileenduff3@gmail.com
  6. Terrence W. Kennedy – District 6
    3 Stafford Road
    Lynnfield, MA 01940
    GC: 617-725-4015, ext. 6
    Bus: 617-387-9809
    Fax: 617-727-6610
    Email: twklaw@aol.com
  7. Jennie L. Caissie – District 7
    53 Fort Hill Road
    Oxford, MA 01540
    GC: 617-725-4015, ext. 7
    Bus: 508-765-0885
    Fax: 508-765-0888
    Email: jcaissie@caplettelaw.com
  8. Michael J. Albano – District 8
    403 Maple Road
    Longmeadow, MA 01106
    GC: 617-725-4015 ext. 8
    Bus: 413-525-4438
    Fax: 413-525-4887
    Email: albanom@the-spa.com

 


[1] Additionally, one prisoner was released to an ICE detainer and two were paroled to a from-and-after sentence.

 

[2] During the Governor’s Council hearing two years ago, several Councillors relied on the fact that Ms. Soto-Abbe has a degree in forensic psychology to support her candidacy.  However, she has never practiced in this area.  She became a victim’s rights advocate at the age of 22 and continued in that employment until she was appointed to the Parole Board.