Critic: Reducing Parole Discretion Boosts Prosecutors' Power


Reducing parole board discretion on prisoner releases gives more power to prosecutors, who may be no better at making such decisions and may be corrupt, argues lawyer Wendy Kaminer on Kaminer commented on the Massachusetts police officer killing that led to the resignation of most of that state's parole commissioners. Kaminer says Gov. Deval Patrick's shake-up of the agency, which was met with the surprised approval of his conservative critics and the dismay of liberal criminal justice advocates, seemed inevitable.

The problem, Kaminer says, is that the call for harsher penal laws sparked by a mistaken grant of parole can increase the generally unaccountable, discretionary power of prosecutors through mandatory sentencing schemes. In Massachusetts, police and some legislators are pressing for passage of an emotionally charged law (named for murder victim Melissa Gosule) that would impose mandatory maximum penalties on many third time felony offenders, eliminating opportunities for parole. Among criminal justice system critics, Kaminer says, “parole board members are not to be trusted with discretion in granting parole, and judges are not to be trusted with discretion in sentencing convicted defendants; but prosecutors are invariably trusted with significantly increased discretion, despite their track records of abusing it.”


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