Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick's dramatic shake-up of the Parole Board and proposed crackdown on habitual, violent criminals will probably aggravate overcrowding in a prison system that is nearly 40 percent over capacity, criminologists and advocates for inmates tell the Boston Globe. Massachusetts has struggled to find room for its inmates, with the prison population more than tripling over the past two decades to well over 11,000. Other financially strapped states are under federal court orders to free inmates to relieve overcrowding or trying alternatives to incarceration.
“This will just make things worse in terms of overcrowding,'' said Chester Britt, dean of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern University. “It's dangerous for other inmates and dangerous for the staff who works there. And the state's not in a position where it will build new prisons.'' Josh Wall, the Suffolk County prosecutor whom the governor has tapped as interim executive director of the agency and is Patrick's pick for chairman of the board, said the potential impact on prisons can't be the state's first concern. “The issue of overcrowding is not going to override the fundamental objective that we have right now, which is to get the parole system working and to get the confidence back in the system,'' he said. The mass resignation Thursday of five board members who participated in a 2008 vote to parole Domenic Cinelli, a career criminal who killed a Woburn police officer Christmas weekend, will almost certainly reduce paroles to a trickle until Patrick replaces them, say people familiar with the process.