Mass. Parole board member seeks reappointment and faces denial at hearing

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BOSTON (State House Press Service) – A parole board member seeking reappointment for a second term faced allegations from a former colleague on Wednesday that she would bring “chaos and destruction of morale” to the agency.

Colette Santa has been a member of the parole board since 2017, when she was confirmed by the Governor’s Council by a 5-2 vote after a long career in corrections.

She served as director and regional director of the Puerto Rico Corrections System before she began working at the Massachusetts Department of Corrections in 2009, and served as Chief of Transitional Services for the Parole Board until Governor Charlie Baker appointed her. is recruiting to become a board member.

Members of the Parole Board serve a five-year term. If the governor elects to reappoint a member, the member goes through another interview process with the governor-elect’s council and is again subject to a confirmation vote.

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Santa’s council hearing this year dragged on through multiple postponements and a continuation. On Monday, two days before council is finally set to question Santa Claus, former parole board member Lucy Soto-Abbe emailed all councilors with harsh words for the candidate, saying that she “had observed that [Santa] did not have the necessary skills to effectively occupy this position.”

“The amount of questions asked by her during [parole] hearings, including hearings on lifers, were limited. When she asked questions, they lacked substance and quality. She brought nothing to the agency other than chaos and destruction of morale,” Soto-Abbe wrote.

Soto-Abbe went on to allege that Santa, during his tenure as the council’s transition services chief, “governed with bullying tactics, such as denying employees time off, violating public service rules, cyberbullying employees over email, punishing employees for speaking up, and punishing employees after being prosecuted for public service violations.”

Soto-Abbe served on the board from 2011 to 2019, including two years alongside Santa Claus.

Councilman Chris Iannella (D-Boston) tried to shed light on those accusations, along with an anonymous list of complaints and allegations against Santa that Soto-Abbe said came from “several staff members.” .

“[Soto-Abbe] did not speak against other people, but she speaks against you. Did you read the letter from her?” asked Iannella.

No, said Santa Claus, she just learned of the letter on Wednesday.

Ianella asked if she wanted to see a copy.

“No, not really,” she replied.

Santa said she had a good working relationship with Soto-Abbe during their time together on the board.

When asked what she thought Soto-Abbe meant by writing that she “ruled with bullying tactics,” Santa replied, “No need to bully. If I just ask you to do your job, if I only ask you to do your job, it’s part of the collective agreement, you have to do your job, I’m not going to ask you to do anything outside of your job description.

When asked again why Soto-Abbe would have said this, she said she was “baffled”, a word Santa Claus repeated in response to further questions.

“That’s her take on things,” Santa said, adding in a follow-up response that she didn’t think Soto-Abbe was telling the truth.

Councilwoman Marilyn Devaney (D-Watertown) said she couldn’t believe all the allegations were “made up”.

“You have equal letters saying I’m fine,” said Santa Claus. “…You are reading the wrong letters. Why that ?

“I’m passing – saw you in person,” Devaney replied. “I went to parole board hearings. I saw you not asking questions and asking irrelevant questions.”

Councilman Robert Jubinville (D-Milton) said a lot of the criticism he’s heard has to do with Santa’s lack of active questioning during these parole hearings.

Santa said his method at hearings is to obtain information by reading a parole applicant’s case, transcripts of other hearings and comments from other board members, and then observing the behavior of the parole applicant. plaintiff at the hearing.

She sometimes said that she “just wanted[s] observe.”

When asked what she took away from that silent observation, Santa Claus recalled one contestant who was “really sad”, adding that “that’s what I took away from that hearing, when he was sitting there”.

“Well, I have to tell you, if I was in state prison, I would be sad, every day I was there,” Jubinville replied.

Councilor Eileen Duff (D-Gloucester) focused on Santa’s use of state employees’ holidays and said the number of weeks off a year ‘doesn’t really seem to add up’ – and that she thought Santa Claus “might owe the Commonwealth money for holidays.”

“You say in 2021 you earned eight weeks off? No other parole board member has taken that long,” Duff said.

The back and forth between the candidate and the adviser became somewhat heated.

“I don’t know the calculations you use,” Santa Claus said.

“I’m counting. It’s arithmetic, in fact, it’s not even math,” Duff replied.

One of the opposition witnesses who opened the hearing was Kristyn Huey of Prisoners’ Legal Services, a former Boston public defender who served with Santa Claus on the Legislature Select Committee on Structural Racism in the parole process.

Created as part of the Police Reform Act of 2020, the commission was led by Senator Jamie Eldridge and Representative Andy Vargas and released its final report in December 2021.

Huey said it was “frustrating” serving with Santa on the commission.

“I was extremely disappointed with her lack of participation, her defensiveness and the fact that it seemed like she just didn’t know what was going on, or if it wasn’t that she didn’t know. , that she didn’t know ‘I don’t want to provide the information,” Huey said, adding that Santa Claus was the only member of the commission who did not vote in favor of the final report.

Santa Claus said she didn’t vote because she felt Gov. Charlie Baker “didn’t have enough time to respond to the report.”

That report contained recommendations on how to make the parole process fairer, and Santa Claus said she gave copies to Parole Board Chair Gloriann Moroney and Executive Director Kevin Keefe, but said she left it to them to decide how widely the report would be shared. within the agency.

“You didn’t share it with the other council members?” Duff asked.

Santa Claus shrugged his shoulders and said, “That was for the chair…”

Probing Santa’s involvement in the commission’s work, Duff asked the general question, “What is structural racism?”

Santa Claus first replied that “it’s a long definition that I prefer to read” and “I don’t have it with me, but I can read it in the report”, before saying: “it’s like it perpetuates racism for, like, policies, procedures in place.”

Councilor Joe Ferreira (D-Swansea), a reliable vote for the Baker candidates, said during a lunch break that he was “conflicted” over Santa’s nomination.

Devaney said during the break that she doesn’t see herself voting for Santa “unless there’s a miracle”. She was one of two opposition votes in 2017, along with Iannella.

Duff cited phone calls she received from career parole board employees “who have no political affiliation, but are really disturbed by [Santa]“, adding that” you have to listen to them “.

In recent memory, the Governor’s Council has rejected only one Baker candidate – Sherquita HoSang, who was also selected for the parole board.

Councilman Paul DePalo (D-Worcester), who chaired Wednesday’s hearing, said he was “really proud” of the council’s hearing last summer on HoSang’s nomination.

In the face of much criticism in the Council Chamber, Santa Claus was often concise but provocative.

“You have a lot of people who don’t like you,” Iannella told Santa Claus.

“And a lot of people who love me too,” Santa Claus said.

“There’s an incredible number of people who are against you. To me, that’s mind-blowing,” Iannella said. “…Speaking a lot more than one or two. I mean, are they all wrong?

“The negative? Yes,” replied Santa Claus.

Announcing her choice in May to appoint Santa Claus for another five-year term, Baker wrote in a prepared statement: “Colette Santa’s experience as a member of the Parole Board and her previous service to the Commonwealth l prepared well for continued service in the Commission.”

In the same press release, Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito wrote: “Colette Santa’s knowledge of the Parole Board and her experience serving the Commonwealth will provide valuable insight to the Parole Board and to those appearing in front of her.”

The board is due to meet next Wednesday, when it could vote on whether to keep Santa Claus on the board for another five years.

Written by Sam Doran/SHNS.

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