In trying to improve the reentry of former inmates into the community and enhance public safety, it is essential for the Massachusetts Parole Board to operate in an effective and efficient manner.

Past agency practices and procedures in several critical areas were not based on updated or empirical data, nor were they recognized best practices. The agency has been making an effort to improve these practices and, over the past few years, has updated existing policies and procedures and established new ones by referring to evidence-based practices. The issue of parole violations is one practice that the agency has been working to improve.

If a parole officer has reason to suspect the parolee has violated a condition of parole or is starting to display behavior that may lead to irresponsible conduct or criminal activity, the parole officer has the authority and obligation to act. However the agency did not provide officers with standardized guidelines by which to evaluate violations and determine an appropriate response or sanction. As a result, violation processes and procedures were not standardized or validated. Too often, technical violations (violating a condition of parole but not committing a new crime) resulted in frequent returns to custody. In fact, nearly 70% of all returns to custody are for a technical violation and not a new offense.

While a parolee's return to custody does incapacitate his or her ability to commit a new crime, the agency was concerned that it also creates a situation in which limited fiscal resources were not being used prudently and effective offender management strategies are not fully implemented.

Thus in 2004, the agency applied for a Byrne Grant to fund an outside criminal justice consultant to address this critical need. The Crime and Justice Institute was awarded a contract in fall 2004 to develop and implement a graduated sanctions policy. After spending two years developing and piloting a draft policy, the agency effectuated a Graduated Sanctions policy on November 1, 2006.

The Graduated Sanctions policy matches the parolee's action with the appropriate treatment, intervention, or sanction based upon the parolee's risk level, assessed at the time of his or her release on parole. If a low to medium risk offender has failed to attend substance abuse classes, for example, yet continues to be employed and maintain a healthy lifestyle, then perhaps this should result in a warning ticket, a meeting with a parole officer, or an intervention by a substance abuse counselor at one of the Regional Reentry Centers. This is especially true given the fact that between 75% and 80% of offenders have an alcohol or drug dependency.

If an offender is willing to work with his or her parole officer, then we should work toward his or her success. Success is not achieved by the knee-jerk reaction of returning an offender back to custody. However, different circumstances render different results. If an offender intentionally and willfully evades his or her parole officer, fails to participate in appropriate counseling, and has been deemed high risk, then a positive screen for drugs may result in a return to custody. In this instance, concern for public welfare mandates that the community not be exposed to any unnecessary risks posed by an offender who is either unwilling or unable to live a crime free lifestyle.

With our new automated case management system, SPIRIT (State Parole Integrated Record Information Tracking System), we are better able to track current information and learn more about the individuals who are on parole supervision so that we can improve upon our case management plan and strategies.