Alleged Rape By Prison Parolee Raises Questions: Massachusetts Parole Board Flawed?

An alleged rape and beating of a 25 year-old woman at Boston’s Back Bay Commuter Rail MBTA station is sure to raise the issue of releasing parole convicts sentenced for violent crimes, as well as raise questions of what, if anything, might be done in the future to predict violent behavior among parole applicants.

Richard Flowers, 48, of Roxbury, Massachusetts, was arrested Saturday night, September 6th and charged with assault and battery and rape. Police charge that Flowers approached a woman in a stairwell the Back Bay MBTA Commuter Rail station Friday night, September 5th, initially asking her for directions, then brandishing a gun and demanding money. When she told Flowers she hold only a few dollars, he allegedly dragged her to another stairwell, waving away witnesses who asked if everything was OK. According to the police report, when alone in the stairwell, Flowers ordered the victim to disrobe, then raped and beat her. The report states that after the attack, the victim was able to kick the gun that Flowers had placed on the floor during the attack, down a stairwell. As Flowers scrambled for the gun, the victim grabbed her dress and ran away screaming for help. By that time, witnesses who had earlier seen Flowers pulling the victim into a stairwell had already called 911, and police arrived shortly thereafter. The victim was able to provide police with a detailed description of her attacker, and based on that description, police arrested Flowers at his apartment on Saturday night, charging him with rape, and assault and battery.

The Massachusetts Parole Board and the Department of Correction will likely come under some fire for this incident, from various quarters, most likely victims’ rights groups. The central question: Was this predictable? Was Flowers released too early? Should his application for parole been more carefully screened? Could anything reasonably have been done to prevent this incident? Critics of parole in general, and of the Massachusetts Parole Board in particular, may believe there is much to criticize here, beginning with the fact that Flowers has a long criminal record, dating back to 1983. His offenses include a conviction of robbery in 1983, with a sentence of four to six years in state prison for that offense; a 1988 conviction for breaking and entering a motor vehicle with intent to commit a felony, for which he was sentenced to six to eight years. In 1994, he was charged with stealing audio equipment from a church in Tewksbury. In 1995, he was charged with robbery of a jewelry store in Cambridge, and was sentenced to 12 to 15 years in state prison.

In August of 2007, the Massachusetts Parole Board began reviewing Flowers’ application for parole, and recorded generally positive comments, including “Subject has worked hard at his rehabilitation and appears ready for community supervision.” At that time, however, the Board withheld final decision on Flowers’ application. Three months later, Flowers was disciplined for minor prison infractions, but there were no violent offenses in any of his prison history. In May of 2008, the Board delayed a vote on his application, but two months later in July granted his release on parole because there had been no more prison disciplinary violations, noting “he accepts responsibility for his actions.” Flowers was ordered stay at home between the hours of 10:00PM and 6:00AM, wearing an electronic monitoring device and be tested regularly for alcohol and drug use. If he violated any of those conditions, he could be returned to prison.

More discussion of this case, in my next post.