Letters to the Boston editors, February 17, 2012

Burning down the house
By BOSTON PHOENIX LETTERS  |  February 15, 2012

Regarding your recent "House of Incorrections" story (Talking Politics, February 3), I think it would be more believable if some criminal-justice experts were quoted. The story is mere speculation by a political writer, David S. Bernstein, typical hot air which passes for constructive criticism. More important, the most egregious abuses currently in prisons are psychiatric abuses, and there is no mention of psychiatry in this essay.

Bernstein says, "wherever the Massachusetts State Legislature gets its fingers into the criminal-justice system, the results are not pretty." He does not mention any reason why. He asks for "less reliance on punitive mass incarceration, and more focus on rehabilitation, treatment, and supervision." Each of these have serious arguments for and against. He states his conclusion without any argument no less evidence for it.

Quoting a Patrick "insider," Bernstein reports he said, "When the legislators start talking about these issues, they automatically think about it as 'soft on crime,' " Isn't that a function of spinelessness of elected officials, what some journalists call the herd mentality? Is it like the fear of being called a racist, or a homophobe? Sherriff Andrea Cabral says, "It's an absolute fact that the way it works now is simply unsustainable from a financial perspective." Yet no mention of the unusually high cost of psychiatric industry programs that are a waste of taxpayer funds.

Bernstein calls the legislature's mentality "Neanderthal." Neanderthal man is extinct. They did not have language nor a system of criminal justice. A more appropriate term to show ignorance or ancient opinions would be to call the legislature "medieval."

A remarkable statement is that "the state's citizenry is far more reform-minded than its elected officials." Bernstein provides no evidence for that sweeping conclusion. The upbeat statement that "CORI reform was significant" is not explained. Is it the fact that any reform is significant? Or that the reform of CORI was a significant reform? No details are provided nor any link to what was done.

Bernstein's conclusion is that fear-mongering is what the legislature does best, citing "the massive expense and threat to public safety that the current system represents." Eliminating psychiatric services from the prison system will reduce a large expense that has no place in the jails.


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