Category: Life without parole

Should ‘lifers’ get a chance for parole?

Bill would make those serving life sentences eligible for hearings after 25 years

 SARAH BETANCOURT Feb 28, 2019

SOME BEACON HILL LAWMAKERS are making another push for legislation that would allow the 1,050 Massachusetts inmates serving life prison sentences to be eligible for parole hearings.

Rep. Jay Livingstone of Boston and Sen. Joseph Boncore of Winthrop have filed legislation that would allow all those serving life sentences – most of whom are in prison for murder – to be eligible for a parole hearing after 25 years of incarceration.

Livingstone on Thursday participated in a panel discussion on the issue before the Legislature’s Criminal Justice Reform Caucus; joining him were Marc Mauer, who leads the Washington, DC-based Sentencing Project, and Donald Perry, a former inmate who served over 18 years in prison.

Mauer, one of the country’s leading experts on sentencing policy, said a record number of 206,000 people are serving life terms in prisons across the US. “Life without parole is not an alternative for the death penalty. It’s an alternative for life with parole,” he said.

The only other way an inmate serving a life sentence can get out of prison is to have his or her sentence commuted, but no governor has commuted a life sentence in Massachusetts since 1997, according to data from the Governor’s Council.

A 2016 Department of Correction annual report shows that $50,000 a year is spent on housing an inmate, with sick and elderly inmates costing up to three times as much. Mauer said older and sicker offenders in their 70s pose a diminished public safety risk and should be released and reintegrated into society to save on these costs.

A number of states are considering proposals to reduce their prison populations. In Missouri, bills have been filed that would grant a parole hearing after no more than 30 years in prison for lifers, and allow early parole for certain offenders over 65 in geriatric units. Both were proposed by Republican legislators.

“President Obama, in his last two years, issued 1,700 sentence commutations,” said Mauer. About a third of those who received commutations had been sentenced to life in prison, often as a result of the “three-strikes” laws mandating life imprisonment for some third-offense drug cases.

Perry received the maximum penalty for armed robbery in 1983, and was on parole for 14 years following nearly two decades behind bars. He now works on criminal justice reform and is a co-founder of Black Behavioral Health Network, which addresses a gap in health services for African-Americans who face incarceration.

Perry said some lifers were classified by the Department of Correction in the 1970s as no longer a threat to society, and could go out on weekends to teach at local universities. “That doesn’t exist now,” he said.Meet the Author

Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan, who attended the State House event, said afterwards that she is in the “information gathering phase” when it comes to the bill to establish parole for those convicted of first-degree murder. “None of us would ever want to be defined by the worst acts of our lives. And then you have to think about that victims’ families are suffering,” she said.

“Our goal is the protection of the public’s safety,” Ryan said, but added that it’s worth assessing “when or if a person is ready to come back out into society.”

Justice reformers set their sights on life sentences

By Michael P. Norton STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE Published: 2/28/2019 11:06:02 PM

Now that the landmark 2018 criminal justice reform law is on the books, lawmakers are exploring additional ideas and “even harder work,” as Sen. Jamie Eldridge put it Thursday, including the possibility of releasing prisoners serving life-without-parole sentences for the most serious crimes, including murder.

Eldridge and Rep. Mary Keefe on Thursday hosted a meeting of the Criminal Justice Reform Caucus where the focus was on legislation eliminating life sentences without the possibility of parole. Marc Mauer of the Sentencing Project said a record 206,000 people are serving life terms in prisons across the nation. That’s more than the entire prison population in 1970, he said.

In Massachusetts, 1,018 people in 2016 were serving life sentence without the possibility of parole.

“There’s beginning to be increasing questioning of these policies around the country,” Mauer said, adding that “people age out of the high crime years” and pose “very much diminished” public safety risks in their older years.

Under legislation sponsored by Rep. Jay Livingstone and Sen. Joseph Boncore, all people serving life sentences would have the opportunity for a parole hearing after 25 years, a change in law that would apply retroactively so that it would affect people currently incarcerated. Both bills are titled “An Act to Reduce Mass Incarceration.”

Noting the number of people serving life sentences has “skyrocketed,” Eldridge said the bill deserves attention, although he told the News Service after the briefing that as chairman of the Judiciary Committee he needs to fully review the bill and declined to comment on his position on the legislation.

“We addressed some of the non-violent mandatory minimum drug crimes, repealing them last session,” Eldridge said, referring to a law that also emphasized treating offenders for substance use addiction. “But now we need to get into, in some ways, the more nuanced discussions around people who are in prison for violent crimes and whether we should be changing the sentencing for some group of those individuals.”

A provision in the 2018 law permitting medical parole, Livingstone said, shows lawmakers are open to changes that reduce incarceration costs while taking into account the danger that individuals pose if released from prison.

Asked about her position on the bill, Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan, who attended Thursday’s briefing, told the News Service that she was still gathering information on the topic. In 1980, Ryan was the victim of a vicious assault and a witness to the murder of her then-boyfriend.

Ryan said the life-without-parole sentence is reserved for first degree murder, and outlined considerations for lawmakers weighing the bill.

“There’s all of those considerations of – what are we trying to accomplish through incarceration? How has somebody behaved while in custody? And as is clearly true, none of us would ever want to be defined by the worst act of our lives,” said Ryan, a veteran prosecutor whose district spans 54 cities and towns and includes a quarter of the state’s population. “And then you have to weigh against that the loss that victims’ families have suffered and sometimes it isn’t just the immediate loss, it’s the continuing piece. So, many of the things you heard about that continued for years when someone’s in custody, obviously the same thing is happening on the other side. So it is a balance. And then obviously our overall goal is the protection of the public safety and the concern about – what does real rehabilition mean? When and is someone ready to be back out in society, while the rest of us are keeping folks safe?“

Livingstone, who attracted 27 co-sponsors to his bill, noted it’s been 22 years since the last commutation of a sentence for a person serving life without parole. Commutations must be recommended by governors, and approved by the eight-member Governor’s Council. He also said the bill would apply to convicted murderers, people with stacked sentences and those convicted under the “three strikes” law.

According to backers of the Livingstone and Boncore bills, Massachusetts has a lower overall incarceration rate than most other states but ranks second among all states for the highest percentage of its prisoners serving life-without-parole sentences.

The number of incarcerated men over the age of 60 increased 41 percent between 2010 and 2018, while the overall prison population declined by 18 percent, according to Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts, and it’s up to three times more expensive to house an elderly prisoner in the general population.

The proclivity to commit crime is “highly age dependent,” the group said in literature distributed at the event, adding, “The peak age is in one’s early to mid-twenties, and continues to decline as one ages. It makes little sense to mandate that a person in their twenties must stay in prison for the rest of their life without a chance to later determine if they still pose a threat to public safety. Incarcerating people who pose no threat is a waste of resources.”

Membership in the caucus co-chaired by Eldridge and Keefe has increased in the past four years, Eldridge said, and the “standing room only” attendance at Thursday’s briefing “reflects the fact that as much as we passed a major reform last session, there’s still a need and an interest and enthusiasm for more reform.”

https://www.recorder.com/APPeter-justice-reform-23819708

http://www.lowellsun.com/news/ci_32485076/should-life-without-parole-be-eliminated

https://www.metrowestdailynews.com/news/20190303/justice-reformers-set-sights-on-life-sentences