Parole matters have historically fallen outside of PLS’ priority areas. However, beginning in January 2011, changes in the Parole Board membership and procedures made it much more likely than before that prisoners would be denied parole, spend long periods of time waiting for decisions, and be revoked or denied parole unfairly. Following a much-publicized incident in which a parolee killed, and was killed by, a police officer in December 2010, the Parole Board came under intense scrutiny.  With the replacement of five of its seven members, the Parole Board has been granting parole much less frequently and revoking parole more often – particularly regarding those sentenced to life with the possibility of parole. The current Board has also continued at least some of the arguably extralegal practices of previous boards.

In light of these circumstances, PLS is now involved in educating the Parole Board, policy makers and the public and advising and advocating on behalf of some parolees seeking release or re-release on parole.

An area of particular concern for PLS is the revocation and rescission of parole. In the case of individuals sentenced to second-degree life sentences, the Parole Board has not been abiding by the procedural requirements established by regulation and Constitutional doctrine. The Board’s improvised procedures add steps to the decision-making process, sometimes flout fixed time limits, significantly delay a final resolution, and do not conform to the Board’s obligations to provide written explanations of its decisions or to assess a parolee’s right to appointed counsel.  As a result, such proceedings may last a year or more and very often yield unfavorable decisions, even where the alleged violations have no objective relationship with the parolee’s likelihood of success in the community. We are also concerned about possible discrimination against prisoners with disabilities, such as substance abuse disorder or mental illness.

About Parole in Massachusetts
Parole is a major concern for prisoners and their families. The minimum requirements for parole eligibility, rescission and revocation are set out in G.L. c. 127, §§ 128 -136, as well as in 120 CMR 1.00 – 902.  Information about the Parole Board, and its upcoming public hearings and decisions in second-degree life sentence cases can be found on the Parole Board’s website.

Generally speaking, prisoners serving second-degree life sentences are eligible for parole upon serving fifteen years of their sentences; if denied, they will have a review parole hearing within five years. See G.L. c. 127, § 133A. Other prisoners sentenced to a term of sixty days or more are eligible for parole upon serving the minimum sentence, and get review hearings every year. See G.L. c. 127, § 133. Prisoners declared to be habitual offenders are eligible for parole at half the maximum sentence and will be reviewed again within two years of a denial. G.L. c. 127, § 133B.

The Massachusetts Parole Board is the government agency that determines if and when a prisoner is released on parole, what conditions a parolee must comply with in order to stay out on parole, and whether his or her parole should be revoked for a violation of those conditions. The composition and powers of the Parole Board are detailed in G.L. c. 27, §§ 4 and 5.

The Parole Board may grant parole if it “is of the opinion, after consideration of a risk and needs assessment, that there is a reasonable probability that, if such prisoner is released, he will live and remain at liberty without violating the law, and that his release is not incompatible with the welfare of society.” G.L. c. 127, § 130 (updated text in italics effective August 2, 2012).

Information for Prisoners, Parolees and Families
The following information is intended to help prisoners, parolees and their family members understand the Parole Board’s procedures on: