Thursday, January 06, 2011

Chaos in the criminal justice system threatens everyone

We are happy to hear that Governor Deval Patrick plans to do something to address youth violence during his second term of office.

But, we hope that action is meaningful and also more encompassing. The plain truth is that the Massachusetts criminal justice system is in a state of chaos. It is threatening our safety and security, and needs immediate attention.

The grisly headlines speak for themselves: On the day after Christmas in 2009, a convenience store clerk is gunned down behind his counter, allegedly by a convicted murderer. In 2010, a pizza deliveryman is murdered for sport by teens. A toddler is gunned down in the streets, caught in the crossfire of an apparent robbery. And the day after Christmas in 2010, a Woburn police officer is murdered by a paroled armed robber who had been sentenced to serve three concurrent life sentences.

Sadly, the tragic list of cases goes on. Each is a solemn example of a system that is failing. If such failures occurred elsewhere, for example in our schools or hospitals, remedial measures would be taken instantly. But, for some reason, the criminal justice system seems immune to meaningful change as people continue to die in our streets.

We're not here to cast blame, and we'd like to specifically point out that police and prosecutors are not to blame. In fact, their tireless dedication and heroic efforts are betrayed the most by these heinous crimes because our criminal justice system works against them.

We're here to demand action. Our state's criminal justice system is too soft on crime, too short on resources, and too laden with politics and patronage to achieve effective results. The Ware Report on the probation department and the New Year's Eve resignation of Commissioner O'Brien leave little doubt that this is true.

Massachusetts needs to put politics aside and put an end to the violence.

State leaders should immediately appoint an independent, comprehensive commission to evaluate our current probation, parole, and sex offender registry systems. And, by a commission, we mean a real working commission that actually meets and achieves results. We must make sure dangerous felons are locked up, not liberated to the streets to reoffend. We need to competently evaluate the risk and monitor the whereabouts of those who are released early.

In addition, the Legislature should partner with judicial officials to undertake a comprehensive reevaluation of our criminal code to identify areas where our laws are failing us. The Legislature should revisit the idea of sentencing guidelines for crimes in this state. The Legislature also should reconsider recent changes to CORI so it is easier for the public to know criminals' violent tendencies.

Finally, we think the FY2012 state budget process should include a thorough, multi-disciplinary evaluation of the capital and operating needs of the criminal justice system. The state should develop a long-term criminal justice spending plan that would help to incorporate additional technology and other resources to assist law enforcement efforts statewide.

There are many components contributing to our crime crisis, including underlying social and economic factors. These will take time to solve. But immediate action is needed to stop the wave of violence sweeping across our state. An entire generation is at risk. Our state is under siege.

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