The Criminal Justice Policy Coalition launched a campaign to repeal current Massachusetts law that imposes life sentences with no possibility of parole. The aim was to secure legislation mandating parole review after 25 years of incarceration regardless of the offense. The campaign reflected a policy adopted in 2003 by CJPC membership supporting the possibility of parole for all who are imprisoned.
As a result of the campaign, CJPC established a subcommittee, Parole Review for All (PRFA). In 2019 and 2020, the subcommittee actively supported two identical bills, one in the State House and one in the Senate, which would have accomplished those goals. Despite a positive public hearing in October 2019, where 60 individuals and organizations spoke in favor of the legislation, the measures did not make it out of the Joint Judiciary Committee. We are confident that new legislation doing away with life without parole (LWOP) will be introduced in the legislative session starting in January 2021.
Life without parole (LWOP) is an automatic sentence for those convicted of first degree murder. Since 2012, it has also been mandated for anyone convicted of one of 18 non-homicide crimes carrying a potential life sentence when that conviction is the third for a felony offense.
In addition, felony murder/joint venture equates to first degree murder for all participants, thus carrying a sentence of LWOP. This sentence applies equally to those who did not “pull the trigger,” and may not even have known a weapon was present, or who had an ancillary role in the crime such as serving as a get-away driver or look-out.
It should be understood that the possibility of parole is not a guarantee of parole. The proposed legislation would offer the chance for those who are incarcerated to demonstrate that they understand the damage their crime has caused and who have successfully rehabilitated themselves, thereby demonstrating that they can function as a productive member of the larger society while under parole supervision.