Parole Commission Chaired by Vargas & Eldridge Files Final Report
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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Commission on Structural Racism in MA Parole Process Files Final Report
To access the full report, please click below.
BOSTON – December 16, 2021 – Earlier today, the Special Legislative Commission on Structural Racism in the Parole Process filed its report with the Clerks of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and the Massachusetts Senate. The report was approved, with 12 of 13 Commission members voting in the affirmative, and one member abstaining under a special circumstance. The special circumstance cited is “Commissioner Santa refrained from voting due to active status as a Parole Board member.”
The Commission was established as part of the police reform bill, An Act relative to justice, equity and accountability in law enforcement in the Commonwealth, which was signed into law at the end of the previous legislative session (Chapter 253 of the Acts of 2020). State Representative Andy X. Vargas (D-Haverhill) and State Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) were appointed by House Speaker Ronald Mariano (D-Quincy) and Senate President Karen Spilka (D-Ashland), respectively, to serve as Co-Chairs of the Commission.
The Commission examined the operation of parole in Massachusetts and racial disparities in outcomes, and how structural racism may create those disparities. To inform its deliberations, the Commission, conducted eleven public hearings over the course of five months. One of the hearings was focused on collecting testimony from the public and to hear directly from individuals who have experience with parole.
The Commission found that Black and Hispanic/Latino individuals are significantly overrepresented in and disproportionately affected by the criminal justice system in Massachusetts. Moreover, studies showed people of color are more likely to serve longer sentences, even after accounting for criminal history, demographics, initial charge severity, court jurisdiction, and neighborhood characteristics. Initial sentencing determines a person’s parole eligibility date, demonstrating that people of color are likely at a disadvantage in parole eligibility as a result. Wealth disparities for people of color were also found to play a significant role and may lead to a lesser likelihood of successful release on parole.
After hearing from experts and pouring through testimony and research, the Commission identified five areas of parole that warrant recommendations: addressing financial barriers, reform to conditions of parole, diversifying organizational culture, increasing transparency, and improving protocols and processes. In its report, the Commission detailed specific policy recommendations under each of these five broad areas of focus.
The Commission also included an area for further review, for topics that were closely related to structural racism in parole: representation for non-lifer parole hearings, commutation deadlines, the Medicaid Inmate Exclusion Policy, and caps on supervision. The full final report is available for download via the Massachusetts Legislature’s website.
“This commission was fortunate to have excellent expertise and participation from members. The report reflects the discussion, testimony, lived experience and peer-reviewed research examined. Across all of our systems, we can find opportunities to root out structural racism, including parole. I appreciated the ability of commission members to have difficult conversations that led to productive insights and recommendations. It has been an honor to Chair this commission and it is my hope that our work produces a more just parole process.” said State Representative Andy X. Vargas (D-Haverhill), Chair of the Commission on Structural Racism in the Parole Process.
“I was honored to Co-Chair the Special Commission on Structural Racism in the Parole Process with Representative Andy Vargas and hear from commissioners, experts and incarcerated individuals with lived experiences. As the Senate Chair of the Criminal Justice Reform Caucus and the Senate Co-Chair of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, I recognize that eliminating racial disparities within the parole process is just one of many reforms that need to be implemented to create a more just criminal justice system in Massachusetts. The Commission produced a thorough report recommending concrete changes that will move us towards reducing inequities in the system,” said State Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton), Chair of the Commission on Structural Racism in the Parole Process.
“Last year, the Massachusetts Black and Latino Caucus worked with partners to pass the historic Massachusetts Police Reform Act, which established this Commission. The Commission on structural racism in the parole process’ report is a significant step towards addressing evident racial disparities in the parole process. I am grateful to all who made the passage of the Police Reform Act possible and want to thank each member of this Commission for their partnership and commitment towards reforming our justice system to give people of color in our Commonwealth more access to fair opportunities,” said State Representative Chynah Tyler (D-Boston), Chair of the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus.
“The work of the Commission was both important and timely and the process allowed for many voices to be heard. More than ever, government - particularly in the domain of criminal justice - is called upon to ensure that the stain of racism is not impacting operations. I applaud the Legislature for this undertaking and was honored to be part of the process,” said Parole Commission Member Ron Corbett, Former Acting Commissioner of the Massachusetts Probation Service.