Friday, December 31, 2010

Life or (nothing) like it

The last paragraph of an article in the Globe today following up on the recent, tragic and totally avoidable killing of a Woburn police officer by a career criminal who was set free by the unanimous vote of the state parole board despite having been sentenced to three consecutive life terms in prison struck me as simultaneously encapsulating a serious problem and at the same time suggesting a solution:
The board paroled about two-thirds of the inmates who appeared before it each year since 2005, according to agency statistics. The percentage of so-called lifers who requested and received parole was 40 percent in 2009; 27 percent in 2008; 27 percent in 2007; and 31 percent in 2006.
I love that term.  "So-called lifers."  How about we save the system and society and whole lot of effort and grief and just lose the "so-called" part?

Think about what those percentages imply.  In 2009, 40 percent of petitioners adjudged guilty of criminal offenses serious enough to earn them sentences of "life" behind bars were set free into society by the parole board.  The late and unlamented Dominic Cinelli, who took the life of sixty year old police officer Jack Maguire on Sunday, was supposedly serving not one but three consecutive life sentences handed down as the cumulative wages of a young life spent as what the system calls a "career criminal."  Instead of dying in prison, Cinelli died on a sidewalk outside of s department store, surrounded by spilled diamonds and spilled blood, in a scene straight out of any number of movies.

The Globe also re-caps the story of Edward Corliss, a convicted murderer paroled from his "life" sentence who last year murdered an innocent clerk during a convenience story robbery.  As the Globe notes,
Both alleged killers were recent parolees and one-time drug abusers serving sentences of 15 years to life for violent crime. Both had histories of escaping from custody. Both persuaded the Parole Board they had changed.
The obvious question arises: why were such men given the opportunity in the first instance to dupe the parole board into believing they had been rehabilitated?  Why does "life in prison" not mean "life in prison?"

A post at Red Mass Group, citing to a 2009 Lowell Sun article, points out that the parole board as currently constituted is comprised of 5 members appointed by Governor Patrick and two Romney holdovers, and is chaired - in a bit of unfortunate imagery that Patrick must be thanking his lucky stars did not become an issue two months ago - by Patrick's former campaign driver.  The board vote on Cinelli was unanimous, an observation sure to be repeated in the coming days and weeks as tragedy gives way to anger and political recriminations begin to fly with more force.  That is so.  The two Romney appointees were apparently as taken with Cinelli as their more recently appointed colleagues.

Still.

I recall that in 2005-06, we were told repeatedly that efforts by candidate Patrick's opponent to focus on his inexplicable advocacy for the release of a convicted rapist constituted the worst kind of "fear-mongering."  Admittedly, the Benjamin LaGuer line of criticism eventually overwhelmed itself; the message was consumed by the atmospherics.  The message was and is highly relevant, however.  Deval Patrick expended a good deal of effort (and money) on behalf of a convicted rapist.  He did this not as LaGuer's attorney, but of his own volition.  Patrick struck up a personal correspondence with the man, contributed to his defense fund, wrote letters on his behalf.

Should anyone be surprised, then, that the parole board appointed by Governor Patrick displays lenient tendencies that in at least two cases have already led directly to two murders that indisputably would not have occurred if the perpetrators had in fact served out the "life" sentences they were given for previous crimes?  And does that not matter?

The Herald tacks some raw numbers onto the Globe's percentages:
The rate at which the state parole board doled out “get out of jail free” passes to lifers skyrocketed by 50 percent last year — a shocking spike that enraged state legislators who proposed tough new laws after the tragic shooting death of a Woburn cop.

Gov. Deval Patrick’s seven-member parole board sprang 35 out of 88 convicts serving life sentences in 2009, or 40 percent, a Herald review found. By comparison, the board paroled just 29 out of 108 lifers, or 27 percent, the year before.
Thirty-five people convicted of crimes serious enough to get "life" sentences, now out walking the streets. 

Is that kind of frightening?  Or am I just "fear-mongering"?

2 comments:

  1. In mentioning Ben LaGuer you should provide the facts rather than just opinion. He was convicted in a time when all male all white juries were still a reality. Convicted without physical evidence by the sole testimony of a woman who took medicine for her delusions. This should alarm anyone who stops and asks themselves; is this the same system of justice used for me and my loved ones?

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  2. Thanks for the comment John. I suppose that in choosing to mention such a controversial case I was inviting an attempt to again re-litigate it. That is outside the scope of the point I was making, however. Just like any campaign-season suggestion that a liberal candidate might be more prone than his opponent to raise taxes is derided as beyond-the-pale, the common-sense prediction that a liberal will tend to be weaker on criminal justice issues is always decried as "fear mongering." No matter that in cycle after cycle predictions like this are borne out with a sun-rising-in-the-morning degree of consistency.

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