Police union calls proposed parole change a threat to public safetyBy DAVE SOLOMON
State House Bureau
December 15. 2017 9:04PM
CONCORD — The question of whether parole violators with addiction problems should be sent back to jail or ordered into drug treatment has put many in law enforcement at odds with the state Adult Parole Board, although both sides tried to find common ground on Friday.
The New England Police Benevolent Association is opposing House Bill 143, which gives the Adult Parole Board more discretion in deciding whether to send parole violators back to jail. The bill is now working its way through the Legislature.
The Adult Parole Board is now required by law to re-incarcerate parole violators for a minimum of 90 days if they were on parole for a sex crime, a violent crime, or if the parole violation was related to the initial offense or “offending pattern.” The 90-day minimum is also required for all second or third parole violations.
HB 143, as recently amended by the Senate Judiciary Committee, gives the Adult Parole Board discretion to suspend any re-incarceration for a parole violator if he or she “enters and successfully completes a residential or intensive outpatient substance abuse treatment program deemed acceptable by the board.”
Law enforcement representatives at the monthly Adult Parole Board administrative meeting on Friday at the State House urged the board to reconsider its support for the measure, calling it a threat to public safety.
“We arrest bad people and put them in jail. It’s your realm to decide whether they get out or not, but we are not in favor of allowing people to break the law and then be allowed to stay free because they allegedly have a drug problem,” Steve Arnold, state director of the New England Police Benevolent Association, told the board.
“It’s become widespread knowledge now and that’s the excuse people have learned to use. ‘I have a drug problem, so keep me out of jail.’ We think that’s laughable,” he said.
Adult Parole Board Chair Donna Sytek, who has led the effort to implement the change, pointed out that the parole violators are going to return to the community after their 90 days back in jail. “Do you want to have someone sent back to the community who has had treatment or no treatment,” she said. “This is an opportunity to get them treatment.”
Opponents of the change are particularly concerned about giving sex offenders or parolees convicted of violent crimes a “get out of jail” card if they agree to out-patient rehabilitation programs, since compliance can be hard to monitor.
“We are not against treatment,” said Seifu Ragassa, chief of parole and probation for Carroll County. “We work with these offenders, but at the end of the day, if they fail, that’s when we bring them before you. Whatever it is you are trying to accomplish, let’s sit down and come up with a global solution.”
Ragassa said he spoke with numerous chiefs of police and the “red flag” to them was allowing parole violators who had been convicted of violent crimes or sex offenses to be eligible for addiction treatment instead of mandatory re-incarceration.
“If there is an opportunity to have common ground by taking out violent offenders and sex offenders, would you be willing to support the bill?” Sytek asked, and later distributed an amendment to that effect.
“We’re going to take a look at it and hopefully get back to her by end of next week,” said Chuck Flahive, the legislative assistant and lobbyist for the Police Benevolent Association.
Adult Parole Board member Mark Furlone took issue with the criticism of the board’s support for the measure.
“To say we are driving this bill on our own whim is grossly inaccurate,” he said. “We are responding to the need for a solid legal mechanism for someone who is in need of treatment, instead of being warehoused for 90 days.”