Reading a 2014 well researched and written article in the Boston Globe about Jerry Remy’s son reminded me of the time I created the Repeat Felon Program (RFP) in the Norfolk District Attorney’s office. The idea behind the program was that there were some people who belonged in State Prison, at that time it was called Walpole rather than Cedar Junction. These were people with extensive adult felony records who were either being put on probation over and over again in the district court; or, if they received a sentence it was a short one to the house of corrections (the House) of two years or less.
Every county has what we called the House. Nothing is corrected there. It is a county jail. It is not a prison. It holds people waiting for their trials who cannot make bail as well as people doing lesser type sentences. It is not “big time” where the worst of the criminals are confined; it is still being locked up but some find it more home-like than they would prison.
The felonies these people I brought into the RFP were committing were not the real serious ones. They were the lesser ones such as unarmed robbery, burglary, larceny, and assault and battery. The more nuisance type crimes that destroy the lives of separate individuals who are the victims but seem less a threat to society.
In a prosecutor’s office as in most places in life there are people at differing levels of responsibility. There are the superior court district attorneys who are the most skilled at jury trials and the district court attorneys. The type of cases I planned to bring into the RFP the veteran superior court attorneys preferred not to handle because the crimes were less significant than those they usually prosecuted. This enabled me to bring in younger prosecutors who were from the district court and give them an opportunity to handle cases in superior court . This allowed them to gain greater experience and skills they might not otherwise have gained by presenting cases to juries.
Many superior court judges felt that these cases were not “superior court cases.” They often complained to the young RFP attorneys that the case should have been disposed of in the district court. It was a good learning process for these attorneys since they not only had opposition from defense counsel but also the judges had their noses out of joint feeling put upon by these lesser cases.
The problem both the veteran superior court attorneys and the superior court judges had was they were looking at the crime and not the criminal. The reason why the Remy case reminded me of the RFP was that had he been in our county at that time after he had a few earlier appearances and was put on probation he may have had his case brought to superior court and ended up in prison; or at a minimum had gone through the process where despite his lawyer he was aware that his actions were seriously frowned upon to the extent that there were some who wanted to send him to prison which was the last place he would have wanted to go.
The problem continues today from all I can see. Too many in our justice system are looking at the crime and not the criminals who commit crimes over and over again. Many more cases of these repeat felons should be processed in the superior court where the defendants can be sent to prison rather than in the district court which does not have that power. Taking that step can make a big difference. We saw how Remy’s little crimes that were passed over led to murder.