State suspends release of parolees

Action follows board overhaul

By Jonathan Saltzman
Globe Staff / January 21, 2011

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In another sign of the upheaval resulting from Governor Deval Patrick’s sweeping overhaul of the Parole Board, a high-ranking public safety official confirmed yesterday that the state has suspended the release of all inmates who had previously won parole.

“As a result of this transition period to new leadership and to ensure public safety, actions relative to the release of parolees were halted last Friday,’’ John Grossman, the state’s undersecretary of public safety, said in a statement released last night.

Last Thursday, Patrick and Grossman released a devastating review detailing the agency’s missteps in paroling Domenic Cinelli, a career criminal who shot Woburn police Officer John Maguire the day after Christmas. Cinelli, who had received three concurrent sentences of 15 years to life, had been freed on parole less than two years earlier.

The review prompted the resignation of five of the board’s seven members, the resignation of the agency’s former executive director from his new job in the prison system, and the suspension of three employees who allegedly failed to adequately supervise the parolee.

Josh Wall, a veteran Suffolk County prosecutor, is expected to take over the agency as interim executive director on Monday. Patrick nominated Wall to be chairman of the reconfigured board, and his confirmation hearing before the Governor’s Council is set for Feb. 2.

Aides to Patrick said they expect the governor to nominate four other members of the board in a matter of days.

No one has been paroled since the board freed 12 inmates from county jails and three from state prisons last Friday, according to public safety officials.

But Grossman said he expected that some inmates could be released on parole as early as next week, as long as Wall is confident that the agency can adequately supervise them in the community.

Still, the halting of paroles has upset inmates, relatives, and advocates for prisoners.

A Hyde Park woman said yesterday that Parole Board members agreed to parole her 21-year-old grandson, who was serving a sentence for gun offenses, after a hearing at the Middlesex County House of Correction in Billerica in December. He had been scheduled to be freed today, she said.

But when she called a jail employee Wednesday, she was told that “everything was put on hold,’’ said the grandmother, who did not want her name or her grandson’s name to be published out of fear of possible repercussions for the young man.

“I think it’s unfair; I think it’s wrong,’’ she said. “You get someone’s hopes up.’’

Leslie Walker, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services, said her agency had received numerous phone calls from people expressing concerns about inmates not being released despite having won parole. Walker said her agency is considering legal action if the state fails to free such inmates.

“The county houses of correction are bordering on unconstitutional overcrowding without this reckless action — the governor firing the parole board,’’ she said. “I don’t think they thought this through.’’

The Patrick administration contends that the Parole Board has always had the authority to delay the release of inmates who have won parole, as in cases when there are not enough beds available in halfway houses for freed inmates.

The Patrick administration had previously told the Parole Board to suspend voting on parole requests from lifers, inmates serving sentences of 15 years to life, as a result of the Cinelli case.

Following the mass resignations, no hearings for lifers are being held at all. The two remaining board members are hearing parole requests from people convicted of less serious offenses, Grossman said, though far fewer than the board would hold with a full complement.

Saltzman can be reached at