Senate Bill Outlines Proposed Parole Reforms

By Sarah Birnbaum

Jan. 24, 2011

BOSTON — A bipartisan group of Massachusetts senators is calling for reform of the state's parole system following the fatal shooting of a Woburn police officer, allegedly by a violent career criminal out on parole.

It's one of several reforms surfacing on Beacon Hill.

The bill would require that the parole board include several members with law enforcement experience. It would also tighten sentencing guidelines for habitual offenders, while making criminals serving more than one life sentence completely ineligible for parole.

Dominick Cinelli, who allegedly shot police officer Jack Maguire, was supposed to be serving three life sentences when he was let out on parole.

Senate Minority leader Bruce Tarr of Gloucester is a cosponsor of the bill. “What is at risk is the public safety of every citizen of the commonwealth.  What is at risk is the integrity of the criminal justice system, where sentences need to mean something,” Tarr said.

But prisoner advocates worry lawmakers are overreacting.  They say the bill would make it harder for those who legitimately deserve parole to win release.  They also say the changes will lead to prison overcrowding.

Gov. Deval Patrick has filed a separate bill that would allow parole for three-time criminal offenders only after at least two-thirds of a sentence is served. And, for now, he has halted all parole hearings for those serving life sentences. The state also has a temporary hold on all inmates who have won parole but have yet to actually be released.

The five members of the state parole board who voted to release Cinelli resigned under pressure earlier this month. Patrick is expected to appoint their replacements in a matter of days.

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