In 1973, Michael Boucher strangled 18-year-old Debra Dill in a wooded area of Litchfield and used a hammer to beat her so viciously that one of her teeth lodged in her windpipe.
Though Maine abolished parole in 1975, Boucher – convicted of murder and sentenced to life in 1991 after years on the lam – was sentenced under laws that existed the year he killed the young West Gardiner woman. That makes him eligible for parole; he is scheduled for a hearing Thursday before a state board.
If Boucher had committed his heinous offense after parole was abolished, there would be no talk of his early release. Undoubtedly, many people believe that that’s how it should be – end of discussion.
Even if Boucher is not a good candidate for parole, a growing body of evidence supports reviewing prison terms at a reasonable point in the sentence. It’s human nature to want those who commit the most serious crimes to suffer the most severe sanctions, but the primary goal of incarceration shouldn’t be retribution, but ensuring public safety and encouraging rehabilitation.
Opponents of parole cite concerns that released offenders will go on to commit further crimes. But the statistics don’t back that up. Of 272,000 prisoners freed in 15 states in 1994, just 1.2 percent of those who had served a murder sentence were rearrested on homicide charges within the next three years, the Bureau of Justice Statistics found. (The recidivism rates for robbery, burglary and car theft all topped 70 percent.)
More recently, researchers tracked 860 convicted murderers paroled since 1995 in California. According to a 2011 study, only five – or fewer than 1 percent – of these freed inmates have been sentenced to jail or prison for new felonies.
The elimination of life-without-parole sentences allows a carefully chosen board the chance to review each request for parole on a case-by-case basis, looking at factors such as the severity of the offense and the inmate’s criminal history and prison disciplinary record. Inmates who need to remain incarcerated would stay in prison, but others would be allowed to make a supervised transition back into society.
The continuing impact of a serious crime on victims and/or their loved ones should not be overlooked. Parole hearings can reopen old wounds and create a sense that the perpetrator’s well-being is more important than theirs. Family members need to be fully informed of the offender’s custody status, avenues of restitution, resources for emotional and practical support and opportunities to participate in the parole process.
Reinstating parole doesn’t mean that all inmates eligible for parole would be released early. It would allow for periodic reviews of the progress that an inmate has made toward rehabilitation and keep behind bars only those who truly represent a risk to the community.