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Old 01-25-2004, 03:49 AM
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Default State's toughened crime policy has downside

State's toughened crime policy has downside
By Stephen Kurkjian, Globe Staff, 1/25/2004

The Massachusetts prison system, once derided as too soft on inmates and quick to free them on parole, has been transformed over the last 12 years into one of the nation's toughest.

Parole has become a comparative rarity. Inmates are disproportionately assigned to top-security institutions. And there are more guards per inmate in the Massachusetts system -- the nation's third-costliest -- than in that of any other state.

But corrections specialists increasingly worry about a dangerous side effect of the "hard time" philosophy that can be traced to former governor William F. Weld's 1990 campaign promise to reintroduce inmates to the "joy of busting rock."

Inmates convicted of violent crimes are increasingly serving out their sentences and being released to the streets, without parole or much of any supervision. Many, not surprisingly, swiftly reoffend. Data obtained by the Globe from the state Department of Correction show that more than 4,000 inmates serving time for violent crimes or sex offenses in maximum- and medium-security prisons have been discharged since 1995 without the parole restrictions of the past.

Massachusetts, in fact, is three times more likely to directly discharge inmates than the national average -- more than any other state except Rhode Island and Virginia.

"This is the single most underrated public safety issue facing us today," said Michael A. Pomarole, former chairman of the Massachusetts Parole Board and now a district court judge.

Stefan F. LoBuglio, deputy superintendent for community corrections for the Suffolk County Sheriff's Department, agreed.

"These are the people who are the terrors of our facilities until we release them, and then they become the streets' problem," he said.

These unsupervised former inmates, the data suggest, are more likely to commit new violent crimes than those who are paroled.

Indeed, 21 percent of the violent criminals and sexual offenders who had been discharged from maximum- and medium-security prisons between 1995 and 1997 were sent back to jail for subsequent violent crimes and sex offenses within three years of their release. Among parolees, about 16 percent reoffended in those years, the most recent for which the state has data.

They are people like Michael J. Barton, convicted as a trigger man during Boston's violent drug wars of a decade ago, and Terry Carter, a repeat offender sent to prison in 1997 for killing a man while driving a stolen car under the influence of heroin.

Both served out their sentences and, unfettered by parole supervision, returned to their old neighborhoods -- and their old habits.

Last June, two years after his release from state prison, where he had served 10 years for killing a drug dealer in Dorchester, Barton, 35, was charged in Dorchester District Court with stealing $1,800 worth of checks from his grandmother, and then again in September for possession of heroin and a loaded handgun.

Carter was also a busy ex-con. Last August, less than a year after completing a five-year prison sentence for using heroin and crashing a stolen car, killing a passenger, Carter, 39, was arrested again. This time he was charged by Boston police with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. Police say he held a knife to a man's throat while attempting to steal his gold necklace and bracelets. When the man resisted, according to a police report, Carter grabbed a nearby wrench and hit the man in the face.

Carter had been released to the streets without supervision even though he had eight convictions on his record dating back to 1984.

Barton and Carter are just two of the roughly 500 inmates convicted of violent crimes or sexual offenses who are released each year from Massachusetts' higher security prisons, without parole. Some are forced to check in with a probation officer, but parole supervision is typically stricter, correction officials said.

State officials say scores of those released have been quick to reoffend, committing crimes ranging from robbery to rape to murder. (Barton and Carter were identified from court records; the state declined to provide names of those directly discharged, citing privacy concerns.)

Top law enforcement officials in the Romney administration say the data underscore the need for sweeping changes in the way the state manages sentencing, incarceration, supervision, and parole.

"It's not enough to be tough on crime," Public Safety Secretary Edward A. Flynn told a legislative committee last fall. "We need to be smart on crime. Smart on crime, not just tough on crime, means results over rhetoric."

While Flynn agreed that the unsupervised release of violent offenders was an "unintended" consequence of the get-tough policies of the 1990s, he said the current problem should have been foreseen.

"Serious police and correctional officials have gone to conferences where this issue was emphasized," he said, "but it's gotten no traction with the public or public figures."

High profile failure

The risk posed by direct discharges is heightened by another trend in the state correction system: moving more inmates into higher security settings. These are typically units where violent convicts can be more closely guarded, but there are fewer programs to help inmates prepare for their return to society when their sentence is up.

This pattern of reclassifying inmates into higher security status was brought into high relief last August 23, when John J. Geoghan, a 68-year-old defrocked priest serving time for molesting a boy, was strangled by another inmate inside a maximum-security unit.

The murder prompted protests from prisoner-rights advocates, who questioned why the former priest had been transferred from a medium-security prison to a maximum-security unit filled with violent criminals.

While an official investigation on the Geoghan case is due to be released shortly, lawyers who worked on Geoghan's behalf contend that his transfer was unjustified, prompted by the Department of Correction's decade-long effort to move as many prisoners as possible into higher-security facilities.

"His transfer was the product of a corrupt classification system whose principal goal is to deny prisoners access to minimum-security prisons, where they might have a better quality of life," and more services, said Leslie Walker, director of the Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services.

Kathleen M. Dennehy, the Department of Correction's acting commissioner, acknowledged in a recent interview that the department has shifted more prisoners to higher security levels than necessary. Some of those transfers appear arbitrary in retrospect, she said, but many were required under tougher sentencing laws passed during the 1990s.

Dennehy said that she has ordered a review of the department's classification system, and that she expects to recommend reforms.

But the man who designed and implemented the prisoner classification system says the state has no excuse for not having acted years ago.

Michael W. Forcier, the Department of Correction's former deputy director of research, said a study he conducted of the classification system in 1999 found that its inmate rating system allowed room for serious abuses. The system afforded department supervisors as many as 17 reasons to disregard the recommended ratings, including a category simply marked "other."

Forcier also found that supervisors were overriding the recommended ratings in about one-third of the cases, resulting in inmates' being sent to higher security prisons. The national average for such overrides is about 10 percent.

"This made a mockery of the classification system, and I told [former Department of Correction commissioner] Michael T. Maloney what my research had found," Forcier said in a recent interview. "The commissioner's response was, "We don't run this place based on research.' "

Maloney, who resigned in November after serving as the state's correction commissioner since 1997, declined a request for an interview.

The impact of the toughened classification rules is clear.

In 1994, the distribution of inmates inside Massachusetts prisons roughly reflected the national average: 8 percent in maximum security, 21 percent in minimum security and the remainder in medium or multilevel facilities. But while the national averages have remained relatively stable over the last decade, the percentage of inmates in Massachusetts' two maximum-security prisons has nearly doubled, to 18 percent, while the number in minimum-security has dropped to around 8 percent.

To accommodate the shift of prisoners toward higher security, the state spent $110 million to build a new maximum-security prison in the mid-1990s, at the same time it was closing most of the prerelease centers that had housed inmates as they readied themselves to return to society.

Because it traditionally takes more correction officers to supervise inmates in higher security facilities, prisons in Massachusetts have become the most heavily guarded in the nation. The state now employs more guards and uniformed officers for its prison population -- one for every 2.7 prisoners -- than any other state in the country.

All those guards come at a heavy cost.

The Corrections Yearbook for 2001, a national compilation of prison data, also found that Massachusetts spent on average $38,799 to incarcerate each of the state's 10,993 inmates, while the national average was $26,342. The only states spending more per prisoner than Massachusetts were Maine and Alaska, the yearbook found. This year, the Massachusetts system expects to spend about $45,670 per inmate.

Trend with a downside

Maloney and his research team may also have disregarded warnings about the risk of discharging inmates who have served their time directly back into the community, without supervision.

Daniel P. LeClair, former deputy director of the Department of Correction's Research Department, made a formal proposal to Maloney in 2000 to study the frequency and seriousness of crimes committed by inmates after their discharge from state prisons.

"We had spent the 1990s locking up more and more prisoners, sending them away for longer time and minimizing their access to parole," said LeClair, who now heads the Criminal Justice and Urban Affairs Department at Boston University. "It seemed to me that no one was examining what the potential downside to that trend had been."

LeClair said Maloney referred his proposal to his research staff, which dismissed it as unscientific. LeClair disputes that assessment.

The risk of unsupervised discharges was also apparent to those who put stock in the effects of parole.

"I can't imagine a situation in which someone who is being released from a high-security prison should be allowed to be released back into the community without some form of community supervision," said Maureen E. Walsh, chairwoman of the Massachusetts Parole Board.

Despite such concerns, however, the trend only accelerated. By 2001, according to a national study of parole, nearly seven of 10 inmates leaving Massachusetts prisons were being discharged directly, rather than being paroled.

Parole declined in part because of new laws that limited judicial discretion in imposing sentences, and because Weld and his successors appointed more former prosecutors and law enforcement officers to the Parole Board.

The number of applications for parole approved by the reconstituted board dropped from 70 percent in 1990 to 38 percent in 2000. With a reduced chance of being paroled, fewer prisoners applied -- and more completed their sentences and were released withouth supervision. "You can see the payoff from an inmate's perspective, for someone who is intending to reengage in criminal behavior," Dennehy said. "You don't have anyone keeping constant watch on you."

`Head in the sand'

State officials hadn't assessed the risks of the policy until the Globe sought discharge and recidivism data from the Department of Correction last fall. It showed that since 1995, a total of 4,141 male inmates who had been convicted of violent crimes and sex offenses had been released from the state's two maximum- and six medium-security prisons without parole supervision.

The data showed that 21 percent of the 1,574 inmates who were released between 1995 and 1997 committed violent crimes or sex offenses within three years of their release. During the same period, the 581 prisoners who had been paroled were about 25 percent less likely to commit violent crimes.

Not addressing this side effect of limiting parole was "like burying your head in the sand," said Joan Petersilia, a criminology professor at University of California in Irvine.

Concerned about the danger posed from discharged prisoners, the Boston Police Department has joined with Suffok County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley and Sheriff Andrea J. Cabral to provide a range of services -- from employment opportunities to mentoring to substance-abuse counseling -- to inmates.

"If we don't want a return to the bad old days of the late 1980s and early 1990s, then we have to pay attention to the people who are being released now," said Boston Police Superintendent Paul Joyce Jr., chief of the department's Bureau of Special Operations.

But the city's program deals only with inmates released from the county House of Correction. There is no program for those in state facilities -- inmates who have, in general, committed more serious crimes.

In 2002, on Maloney's initiative, the state did seek to upgrade its prisoner "reentry programs" by providing five days of instruction to soon-to-released inmates on how to stay out of trouble.

But the course is not required. About 25 percent of those eligible skip it or miss it for other reasons.

One of those was Ernesto Monell Jr., who was discharged from maximum-security prison in June. He said he could not attend the class because he was placed in solitary confinement for his last 11 months of imprisonment. He said that, except for information about social services agencies in the Boston-area that might help him find housing and a job, he had no preparation for his return to the street.

"I was afraid to go outside for a few months because everything has changed so much since I went in," said Monell, who had been convicted of wounding two other teenagers in a gun battle in a Dorchester park in 1996. "I got a job now, but I still am afraid of being outside.

Correction officials contend that since attendance at the workshops is voluntary, inmates need an incentive, primarily a greater chance at gaining parole, to attend.

Increasing the clout of the Parole Board is a central element in the Romney administration's prison reform plan, though adminstration officials acknowledge it may draw influential opponents. People like former Gov. Weld.

"In my view, we are not a little late in putting greater emphasis on rehabilitation and less on deterrence," Weld said. "We are a little early for it."

Flynn, the public safety secretary, is well aware of the challenge ahead.

"The man in the street is going to say, `Keep them in jail,' " Flynn said in an interview. "Our response is that we're trying to be smart here. We're trying not to get them to [commit further crimes], and we're trying not to throw your tax dollars out the window, because it is expensive to keep them in jail."

Stephen Kurkjian can be reached at kurkjian@globe.com
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Old 12-23-2008, 11:19 PM
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Stefan F. LoBuglio ...weird..that's my boyfriend's uncle.. my boyfriend is serving time for a gun charge..they're keeping him out of suffolk jails (for an obvious conflict of interest) and he was recently offered a plea that goes against MA laws! his sentence is being negotiated now..won't know for a few more months ugh...
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