Our criminal justice system failed Melissa Gosule, Woburn Police Officer John Maguire and, no doubt, scores of other victims of violent crimes because of a dysfunctional parole system in Massachusetts.
This week the Legislature passed a measure designed to prevent these tragedies in the future. But the proposed law is deeply flaw and will have the unintended consequence of allowing more dangerous criminals to walk the streets of our communities, unencumbered by any oversight, so that they can prey on more innocents.
The so-called “three-strikes” law will deny parole to any person convicted a third time for a variety of violent crimes. Clearly repeat offenders of violent crimes–rape, incest, aggravated assault, home invasion, among others–should be treated differently than first time offenders. I would fully support additional jail time for second and subsequent offenders. (For example, if you commit a second offense, the penalty would be twice as severe as a first time offender and the penalty would get progressively longer for subsequent offenses. Under this scenario, not only would they serve more time, they would also be on parole longer, so society monitors their behavior longer.)
Even with tougher jail time for repeat offenders, these dangerous criminals will be released from jail someday–whether they serve three years, ten years or twenty years. And when they get released from jail, society must be able to monitor these people very closely and have the power to throw them back in jail for even the slightest indiscretion (like drug use or hanging out with other convicted felons).
This is why we have parole, so that society can monitor the behavior of a felon after they are released from jail. That is why, for example, a ten year sentence really amounts to seven years of jail and three years of parole. Properly implemented, society “owns” a parolee for three years, putting strict conditions on a parolee’s life during these three years: requiring them to tell society where they live, requiring drug tests, allowing society to inspect where they live and preventing them from certain behaviors (like hanging out with other felons.) If they break these rules, they go back to jail. But as the Gosule and Maguire tragedies highlight, this was not happening and top to bottom reform of our parole system is needed.
But the solution to our parole problem–one that allowed violent criminals to easily seep underground, only to strike out at innocents again–is not to end parole for the most violent criminals, which this proposed law will do.
At best, this proposed law will delay the violent acts of third offenders by keeping them in jail a few years longer. At worse, it will send a legion of violent and harden criminals back into our communities, unfettered by any public safety oversight, to terrorize us.
If Governor Patrick signs this bill into law, it will only be a matter of time before the consequences will result in more senseless tragedies. When that happens, the legislative supporters of this bill and the legions of newspaper editorialist and pundits that advocated for it, will scream louder for “stronger” measures. I cringe to think of what “solutions” they will offer then.
Governor Patrick, for the safety of the public, veto this bill.