What is Parole?

Parole in Massachusetts

From Prisoner’s Legal Services of Massachusetts: www.plsma.org

Massachusetts Parole Board

The Massachusetts Parole Board is the government agency that determines if and when a prisoner is released on parole, what conditions a parolee must comply with in order to stay out on parole, and whether his or her parole should be revoked for a violation of those conditions. The Parole Board may grant parole if it “is of the opinion, after consideration of a risk and needs assessment, that there is a reasonable probability that, if such prisoner is released, he will live and remain at liberty without violating the law, and that his release is not incompatible with the welfare of society.” (Massachusetts General Laws, chapter 127, section 130)

Information about the Parole Board and its upcoming public hearings and decisions in second-degree life sentence cases can be found on the Parole Board’s website at http://www.mass.gov/eopss/agencies/parole-board/.

Eligibility for Parole

Generally speaking, prisoners serving second-degree life sentences are eligible for parole upon serving fifteen years of their sentences; if denied, they will have a review parole hearing within five years. Other prisoners sentenced to a term of sixty days or more are eligible for parole upon serving the minimum sentence, and get review hearings every year. Prisoners declared to be “habitual offenders” are eligible for parole at half the maximum sentence and will be reviewed again within two years of a denial.

Parole Denial

Prisoners have the right to appeal the denial of parole or the imposition of special conditions within 30 days of receiving written notice of the decision. All appeals must be made in writing and submitted to the Institutional Parole Officer, who will inform the prisoner of the outcome. The appeal must specify one or more of the following reasons:

  1. That the decision was not supported by the reasons or facts as stated.
  2. That the decision was based on erroneous information and the actual facts justify a different decision.
  3. That the hearing panel did not follow correct procedure in deciding the case, and a different decision would have resulted if the error had not occurred.
  4. There was significant relevant information in existence but not known to the parole hearing panel at the time of the hearing.
  5. The special conditions of parole are unfair and cannot be obeyed under the circumstances, and should be amended by the Parole Board Members.

Prisoners may also request reconsideration of a Parole Board decision to deny parole or to grant parole subject to special conditions. If the request for reconsideration is submitted together with an appeal, both must be submitted within 30 days of receiving notice of the decision. Otherwise, if the request for reconsideration is submitted on its own, it must be submitted at least 90 days from the date of notification. A petition for reconsideration must not be based on the same grounds as an appeal or previously-rejected request for reconsideration, and must state facts supporting one or more of the following four grounds:

  1. There is a material change in personal or other circumstances which requires a different decision.
  2. The tasks mandated by the parole hearing panel have been accomplished.
  3. Especially mitigating circumstances justify a different decision.
  4. There are compelling reasons why a more lenient decision should be rendered.

Representation at Parole Hearings

Prisoners are entitled to legal representation at parole hearings on a second-degree life sentence, parole rescission hearings, preliminary parole revocation hearings, and final parole revocation hearings, but are generally not entitled to legal representation at other parole release hearings. Although prisoners do not ordinarily have the right to counsel at a release hearing, the parole hearing panel may, in its discretion, permit a qualified individual to represent an inmate who, because of a mental, psychiatric, medical, physical condition or language barrier is not competent to offer testimony at or understand the proceedings of an initial release or review hearing.

In the event that you or your loved one is facing a hearing on a second degree life sentence, rescission or revocation, you may be able to obtain representation through one of the following law school programs:

PLAP (Prisoner Legal Assistance Project) at Harvard Law School

6 Everett Street, Suite 5107
Harvard Law School
Cambridge, MA 02138
(617) 495-3969
(617) 495-3127 (collect)

Provides representation at disciplinary hearings; parole rescission/revocation and 15-year (second-degree lifer) parole hearings, as well as some DDU hearings, and assistance with sentence calculation, lost property and denial of visitation. Covers all Massachusetts prisons.

Prisoner Assistance Project at Northeastern University School of Law

Dockser Hall 140
65 Forsyth Street
Boston, MA 02115
(617) 373-3660 (collect)

Available each year September to February only; representation at parole rescission/revocation and 15-year hearings. Covers major prisons as far from Boston as the Bridgewater complex; usually will not go to Gardner or Shirley.

For more information, visit www.plsma.org or call us at (617) 482-2773 x104.