Rep. James Kelcourse’s appointment to the Parole Board has rushed headlong into the wringer that is the Governor’s Council, where advisers and advocates have raised concerns about his lack of experience with parole. mental health and addictions and questioned his motivation to seek the position.
Kelcourse, a Republican from Amesbury, is a defense attorney who has served in the House since 2015. Governor Charlie Baker nominated him for a seat on the board that grants and oversees parole until June 2 2026. He would take the place of Sheila Dupré if he wins a majority of council votes next week when a vote on his nomination is expected.
“I’ve always believed in second chances. But I also believe in the importance of risk management. As a youngster, I made mistakes in my life. The lessons I learned helped me become the adult I am today. I am grateful to the people who took the time to help me and point me in the right direction,” Kelcourse said in his opening statement on Wednesday.
“Unfortunately, there are many who weren’t as lucky as me to have the support I had and who, for various reasons, ended up incarcerated. Some of these people were former comrades classmates, teammates and friends,” he continued. “While our system isn’t perfect, I think we’re on the right track to improve the programming and other tools available to inmates so that ‘they can work towards their release and successful reintegration.”
It was clear at Wednesday’s hearing that some councilors were skeptical of Kelcourse’s nomination.
Councilor Christopher Iannella said his “biggest concern is his lack of social science experience”. He pointed out that the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers sent the board a letter objecting to Kelcourse’s appointment “due to his lack of experience.”
“They don’t specify exactly, but that means to me that they have issues with the fact that he doesn’t have what I consider to be the most important criteria, training in the social sciences,” Iannella said.
“I asked you what time it was”
Advisers and advocates have long argued that the parole board is overcrowded with prosecutors and that there aren’t enough people on the board who have expertise in the kinds of issues that many incarcerated people face. , such as substance use disorders or mental health issues.
Councilor Mary Hurley, who was the first to interview Kelcourse on Wednesday, asked him directly about his training or experience in social work. Kelcourse, who has degrees in business and law, responded by discussing the work he has done with social service providers in his legislative constituency. Hurley wasn’t satisfied with his answer.
“Here is the situation: I asked you what time it was. You told me how to build a watch,” she said.
Hurley also asked Kelcourse if it was “true that you really wanted to be a judge and people told you you didn’t have enough experience?” He said the first part was true – at another point he said being a judge was a dream of his – but said the second part of Hurley’s statement was false.
And Kelcourse, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Amesbury in 2021, pushed back against the idea that he was simply looking for his next job and became emotional as he told the story of Jimmy Fitzgerald, a previously incarcerated man who he met after being questioned by the Salisbury Chief Constable to talk about opioid use disorder. Kelcourse said Fitzgerald asked him for help with his addiction and the two men texted. Then Fitzgerald’s mother called Kelcourse one day to say her son was dead.
“There just weren’t enough programs to help this child. He left. and that’s the kind of attention to detail that I focus on as a rep. I take these questions to heart, I want to help these people. I don’t just want to serve in a… it’s not favoritism to me, it’s not something I want to do because maybe I’m tired of the current job I’m in. I want to help people,” he said.
“I love public service and I am passionate about it. and I have a desire to learn, to learn more about how I can help people like Jimmy Fitzgerald, perhaps those who are incarcerated, get the services and programs they need to survive outside,” he said. “They shouldn’t be in jail because of drugs. They should be outside, they should contribute to society and live among family and friends.
“I think he has a great understanding”
Three people spoke in favor of Kelcourse’s nomination at the start of the hearing on Wednesday, including former Essex County Sheriff Frank Cousins.
“I think one of the most important things to me is how we deal with people with drug and alcohol problems. As we all know, we have a huge problem with that in our Commonwealth,” Cousins said. “One of the big issues for the rep is how to deal with people who are in the criminal justice system who need help with legal issues, but more importantly, prepare them. to their lives when they are released from sheriff’s custody or parole, and make sure they’re in a good program to help them lower those recidivism numbers in the commonwealth. I think he has a great understanding of that.
After all three witnesses came out in favor of Kelcourse, the council called anyone who wished to oppose his appointment. But when a woman who volunteers with Word Watch to monitor and provide information on parole hearings began testifying against Kelcourse on the grounds that he had no social science background, counselors reacted as if they were offended than anyone would oppose the appointment they are charged with. assess.
“Have you ever spoken to this candidate?” I did it,” Councilman Terrence Kennedy said.
Councilwoman Eileen Duff, who chaired the hearing on Wednesday, sounded exasperated and suggested people were wasting the governor’s council’s time by arguing for Kelcourse’s nomination to be rejected without directly linking their testimony to it.
“We love your testimony, but you don’t tell us anything we don’t know. and so when we ask people to testify for or against, we are asking people who have direct knowledge of something. Now, you have direct knowledge of the parole board and hearings, but we; we know more than you do,” Duff said.
Duff, who is very active in Democratic Party politics and represents the district of Kelcourse’s House on the Governor’s Council, noted that she had actively campaigned against Kelcourse and said she would not make any commitments on Wednesday as to how which she would vote on her confirmation next week. But she also said he was one of the best-prepared candidates to come before the board and read a letter of support from Rep. Adam Scanlon, who is gay, which she said “frankly took me off guard”.
In the letter of support Duff read, Scanlon said his work with Kelcourse has revealed someone who understands the rehabilitative role of the criminal justice system, who is committed to protecting protected classes and who is willing to listen. .
“I know you’re quite popular in the House. It’s not a letter I expected to receive,” said Duff, who is gay. Later in the hearing, she said: “As the only minority person on this board, I have to say Rep. Scanlon’s letter meant a lot to me and frankly, really, really surprised me. .”