About a week ago the Boston Globe had an article dealing titled: “New Report Slams Mass. On Corrections Reform.” The headline is quite misleading. The report’s main complaint is that too many people are being sent to jail and are being held there for too long a period despite the lowering crime rate, and are getting out without prior proper planning.
During slow times I’ve talked about this problem. My initial post demonstrated how antiquated the Massachusetts criminal justice system is. I suggested that lawyers practicing in the 1930s or even decades before that would feel right at home walking into a present day courthouse. This could not happen in any other profession.
In my second post on the subject I gave examples of how belabored the system has become. I concluded that brief excursion away from the topic of this blog by suggesting that there are just too many crimes which brings about the unnecessary involvement of lawyers and the infusion of nothing more than busy-work into the process. In other posts I’ve noted how the system has become so out of control the DAs are forcing people who may not have committed crimes into the hands of private money making organizations who are performing sham services.
Last week’s report is from a group called the “Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, and Community Resources for Justice.” The name alone is enough to make one pause. The Globe article doesn’t give me a cite for the report and Googling it doesn’t seem to give me access to it.
From the little I can tell from the Globe article there’s little hope for any change. It is noted: “the report issues include a moratorium on the expansion of state prisons, reexamining sentencing guidelines, and expanding prerelease programs.” Nothing will improve with the nibbling at the edges approach these so-called experts suggest.
What has to be done is to blow up the present criminal justice system and start over again now that we have reached the 21st Century. I’m sure you won’t find this in the report but by changing anywhere from one-half to two-thirds of the activities that are presently considered criminal into civil violations the resources of the system could be better allocated.
It’s seems to me from some of the language in the article the members of the coalition just don’t get it. The article starts with the language: “Despite steeply declining violent crime rates, the percentage of Massachusetts residents behind bars has tripled since the early 1980s, as the Commonwealth has clung to tough-on-crime laws . . . . ” A couple of paragraphs later it says: “It’s an odd set of numbers: crime going down while prison populations are still going up,” said Greg Torres, president of MassINC, the nonpartisan research group that commissioned the study.”
Perhaps its not such an odd set of numbers, as Mr. Torres would have us believe. Each jailed burglar is one less person breaking into houses. I suppose if we imprisoned all the people who committed serious crimes the crime rate would be near zero, a goal to be wished for.
There is a state representative from Ipswich named Brad Hill who is quoted in the report. I’ve got a sense that he’s getting a feel for what’s wrong based on the quote attributed to him: “We want to take the most heinous criminals off the streets and put them behind bars. Everyone else, we want to help.” Unfortunately he is a Republican who has as much influence on what is done Beacon Hill as one of the pigeons on Boston Common. Nevertheless, I welcome him to the fight for 21st Century sanity in the Massachusetts criminal laws.
We seriously should consider turning most of our criminal laws into civil offenses that can be resolved over the internet. We reserve our criminal laws for the bad guys and gals. It’s those we want our police forces to concentrate on. It’s those we want to bring to trial quickly and get them off the streets. I hope Representative Hill goes further into his thinking about these matters and recognizes what really has to be done.
When we develop a system that removes as much as the non criminal matters that are now being treated as criminal from the courts we’ll relieve the judges, prosecutors, probation officers, and cops from much of the work-a-day drudgery and let them concentrate on the important matters. We’ll cut down significantly on the cost involved in running the pre-incarceration aspects.
When we do that, we can then concentrate our resources on rehabilitation by recognizing that some persons can never be rehabilitated but a certain percentage of those in prison can. You don’t need a truck load of psychiatrists to figure this out. Look at the person’s record — 90% of the time it will tell you all you need to know about the person.
The sad fact is reforming the overly expensive and inefficient criminal just system is quite easy but too many people have a vested interest in keeping it like it is. At least with Brad Hill we can see someone has lit a candle.