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Bad ideas
Ally’s Law won’t save lives, but the Intensive Parole for Sexual Offenders program will. Plus, the dubious constitutionality of the national do-not-call registry.

FRESH ON THE heels of Governor Mitt Romney’s announcement last week of the formation of a Death Council made up of forensic and legal specialists charged with devising a way to guarantee with absolute scientific certainty a defendant’s guilt in a capital crime (see "Stopping Government’s Culture of Death," Editorial, September 26, available online at comes even more news that further degrades the Commonwealth’s criminal-justice system.

In a rare moment of cooperation, last week both House Speaker Tom Finneran and Senate president Robert Travaglini pledged to push through the legislature a bill that would increase the number of sex offenders eligible for civil commitment at the Massachusetts Treatment Center in Bridgewater. It would do so by making eligible for civil commitment offenders who have already served their sex-crime sentences and are now imprisoned for non-sexual crimes, as well as by adding many more offenses — such as pimping and lewd and lascivious behavior — to the list of those that would qualify as sexually dangerous behavior. The bill received a huge publicity boost during last week’s trial of Paul Leahy, who was found guilty of killing Alexandra Zapp in the restroom of a Route 24 Burger King. Indeed, the Boston Herald editorialized in favor of the bill — known as Ally’s Law — on Monday, citing the Zapp murder. If the bill had been law before Zapp’s murder, proponents say, Leahy might very well have been locked up in Bridgewater instead of working a late-night job at a rest stop.

That’s unlikely. Only 13 percent of those wrapping up sex-offense sentences are put through the civil-commitment process. Of these, only eight percent are successfully committed.

Given the circumstances of Zapp’s tragic death, it’s far more likely that she would be alive today if Leahy had been forced to enroll in the Intensive Parole for Sexual Offenders (IPSO) program. IPSO is currently offered only in the Framingham region of the state’s parole system. As David Bernstein reports this week (see "An Ounce of Prevention," News and Features, October 3, 2003), it consists of aggressive monitoring of sexual offenders, including subjecting them to lie-detector tests, random drug testing, mandated counseling, and pre-approval of any work sites. Had Leahy, a two-time sex offender, been enrolled in IPSO, he never would have been allowed to take a night job at a rest-stop area. And he never would have encountered Zapp in that Burger King restroom.

To date, no one enrolled in the program has re-offended. It would cost $1.7 million to implement the program statewide. Neither the governor nor the legislative leadership has taken an interest in the unusually successful program. As a result, it will cease to exist in January, when the pilot program runs out of funds. In other words, political grandstanding in favor of a constitutionally dubious law will take precedence over actual action that could make the Commonwealth safer. Which is further evidence that too many politicians have little or no interest in dealing with crime in any way other than by incarceration — a far more costly and less effective approach to keeping sex offenders from re-offending than the IPSO approach.

Meanwhile, the governor has yet to take any action regarding the death of Kelly-Jo Griffen, who died under mysterious circumstances at MCI-Framingham. As Kristen Lombardi previously reported (see "What Happened to Kelly-Jo?", News and Features, September 12, available online at, Griffen had not been convicted of any crime, yet she was illegally detained overnight at MCI-Framingham and forced to detox cold turkey from a 20-bag-a-day heroin habit. Photos of Griffen’s body at the Solimine, Landergan & Rhodes funeral home, in Lynn, taken by her family, show dark-purple bruises on her forehead and around her left eye. Her left cheek is swollen. There’s an inch-wide cut on the top of her head, around which her long, brown hair looks matted, as if tied in dozens of knots. Incredibly, the Department of Correction (DOC) maintains that she died of injuries sustained in a fall.

There’s little question that Griffen was horribly neglected while behind bars and that if she had not been in prison she would likely be alive today. That this hasn’t motivated Romney to order the DOC to conduct an investigation — resulting in punishment for any state employee responsible for Griffen’s death — is shameful. If Romney, our highest elected official, doesn’t care, you can be sure no one at the DOC does. And that means it’s only a matter of time before something like this happens again.

THE ISSUE over whether to implement the national do-not-call registry, which will prevent telemarketers from making unwanted phone calls to anyone who signs up for the list, raises important constitutional concerns. As a federal judge ruled last week, the registry puts the government in the business of picking and choosing what kind of speech can be engaged in by companies who call people who’ve signed up with the registry. Calls dealing with charitable concerns, for instance, are okay. So are calls from political and polling organizations. And calls from companies with whom a home consumer has done business within the last 18 months — say, a media company calling to ask a consumer to renew a home-delivery subscription. Everything else is off-limits. This obviously veers perilously close to violating the First Amendment — if it doesn’t actually do so.

Let’s face it, almost no one likes these calls. But with hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue involved, and with millions of people employed by the telemarketing industry, not everyone hates them. So there must be a better solution than denying the free-speech rights of telemarketers — as offensive and disruptive as they may seem. Indeed, there must be a technological solution. If one isn’t currently available, then it’s time for someone to come up with a sophisticated call-screening device that automatically rejects, say, automatically dialed calls. Or perhaps there’s a way to devise an opt-in system whereby individual consumers can specifically choose from whom they are willing to receive calls.

We don’t get to pick and choose what kind of speech the First Amendment protects. Free speech is free speech. And the government shouldn’t selectively ban an entire class of speech even if it is annoying. The national do-not-call registry is just the sort of case that puts these values to the test.

What do you think? Send an e-mail to letters[a]

Issue Date: October 3 - 9, 2003
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