Parole board pick touts experience at hearing

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BOSTON (SHNS) – Parole Board nominee Sherquita HoSang appears to have at least three Governor’s Council votes in favor of her appointment already, but she faced pointed questions Wednesday about her preparation for the position and her willingness to recuse herself from some cases.

On Wednesday, several members of the council that will decide whether HoSang joins the board praised the perspective she would bring from her background as a social worker, and judges who worked alongside her in the juvenile probation system lauded her open-mindedness.

Two councilors, though, grilled HoSang at her confirmation hearing and expressed dissatisfaction with some of her answers.

Councilor Eileen Duff, who called the board “inept and incompetent” for not approving more releases and pardons, said at one point she was unsure that HoSang had read enough life sentence parole decisions or offered enough specifics about her work as a juvenile probation officer to qualify for the board.

“I’m not sure you’ve done enough homework to be sitting in this seat right now, to be honest,” Duff said. “You say things, but you’re not answering questions to me. That happens, but it’s something that — our job is to listen and to really decipher what is happening.”

HoSang, a Springfield native, has served as a member of the Sex Offender Registry Board since August 2020. Before that, she spent six years as a juvenile probation officer in Hampden County and worked from 2010 to 2014 as a Department of Children and Families social worker.

She applied for an open seat on the Parole Board about four months ago, and Gov. Charlie Baker nominated her last week to serve a four-year term. The council, an elected body of eight, will need to approve HoSang before she can be seated and will likely vote on her nomination next week.

HoSang told the panel that she is a “multi-dimensional candidate,” recounting personal hardship she faced that reinforced in her the importance of “showing up for others in times of need.”

“If I am confirmed today to sit on the Parole Board, I can assure you that with all the skills I have learned from my professional and my personal life, I will utilize them on the board,” she said. “I will listen. I will show empathy. I will be mindful of both the parolee’s past and the potential for their future. I will look for ways to help them succeed, and I will hold them accountable. I will be cognizant of the community’s public safety.”

The seven-member board decides which inmates can be released from incarceration to complete their sentences in the community and what conditions they will face. In 2019, the most recent year for which data is available, the board approved 2,764 institutional releases and denied 1,530 others following hearings.

The first three councilors who spoke at Wednesday’s hearing — Joseph Ferreira, Terrence Kennedy and Christopher Iannella — all indicated that they would vote in favor of HoSang’s nomination. Iannella in particular praised her sociology and legal education and her background in social work, saying he would not support another Parole Board nominee from a law enforcement background.

Replying to Iannella’s concern that the board has not considered enough pardons, HoSang said pardons “are an important part of the community and rebuilding and allowing people to move forward in their lives” and pledged to consider each application individually.

In response to a string of questions from Councilor Robert Jubinville, HoSang said she did not vote in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana in 2016 but that she would not vote to revoke parole if the sole violation a parolee committed was marijuana use.

“The answer is no,” HoSang said. “It’s unlikely that I would do that. If it’s just marijuana, the answer is no, I will not.”

Jubinville also said he is concerned that HoSang is seeking an open seat on the board less than a year after she joined the Sex Offenders Registry Board.

“I don’t know if that bodes well for my vote,” he said.

Both Jubinville and Duff pressed HoSang about her potential involvement in cases involving Springfield inmates because her husband, Orette HoSang, is a Springfield police officer. At first, HoSang told Duff she would not automatically recuse herself from any parole hearings in Springfield, saying it should be a “case-by-case basis.”

Later in the hearing, Jubinville said inmates from Springfield might have the “perception” of a conflict of interest — regardless of whether one actually existed — if HoSang did not recuse herself as a rule.

“I would suggest you have to recuse yourself on every case from the Springfield Police Department. Don’t you think?” Jubinville said.

HoSang then replied that she would follow that suggestion and recuse herself from all such situations.

“I will recuse myself, yes,” she said.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Hampden Juvenile Court Assistant Chief Probation Officer Keith Gibbings recounted the first time he met HoSang in 2009, when she was a community outreach worker involved with a client of his.

“I was immediately impressed by her ability to effectively communicate with the child and the family,” Gibbings, one of the witnesses who testified in favor of her nomination, said. “This may sound simple, but when working with children displaying mental health and behavioral issues as well as skeptical parents, her professional demeanor and calming influence made a lasting impression on myself.”

Another witness, Springfield Juvenile Court Judge David Paradis, said HoSang has “always (been) open to new ideas and information,” stressing that she “never had a cookie-cutter approach” as a juvenile probation officer.

Duff, who said her comments were not all directed at HoSang personally, slammed the existing Parole Board over the pace of its work. Some Massachusetts inmates are waiting up to a year to get a final decision on their parole applications, Duff said, calling it “unconscionable.”

“I honestly don’t know why there hasn’t been a class action lawsuit against the Parole Board, against the administration, against the state,” Duff said.

“You know what the truth of the matter is in this state?” Duff later added. “Nobody cares about drug addicts and nobody cares about people in prison. Everyone in this building can say, ‘I want more drug rehab beds and I want this and that,’ and they can keep saying it from here to kingdom come, and you know what, Marilyn Devaney says we’ll never get them. Because the truth of the matter is they don’t want to pay for them and they don’t care.”

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