|Commentary on Criminal Justice Reform in Massachusetts|
|By William Sturgeon|
First and foremost, a “Well Done” to the Massachusetts Legislature and Governor Baker for their efforts to reform the Massachusetts Criminal Justice System! As a person who has spent most of his adult life working at various levels and positions in the criminal justice system, serious reform has been needed for years.
Again, “Well Done” Massachusetts!
The current reform of the Massachusetts criminal justice system is the beginning of a much longer and complicated process, in my opinion. The American criminal justice system is a patchwork of kneejerk fixes to immediate situations, most of the time without any current and relevant research to validate the fix.
As I read the WBUR News article (April 6, 2018) written by Steve Brown, I was pleased to read that the Legislature addressed some of the serious issues affecting the Juvenile Justice System. Yet there are so many more issues associated with juvenile justice, and most of the issues are complicated and challenging.
I would, however, criticize some of the “fixes” (to the juvenile justice system) that the Legislature passed. Specifically, what bothers me most is the continuing use of chronological age as a determining justice factor for juvenile justice. With all of the modern scientific testing and evaluation methods, one would think that these twenty-first century tools would be employed during the juvenile adjudication process. Some of the twenty-first century tools are: I.Q. testing, psychosocial testing, psychological testing, complete physical examination, and, if determined necessary, an MRI or Cat Scan. Also, testing for traumatic brain injury. Looking back on my work with adjudicated juveniles / youthful offenders and knowing what I know now about traumatic brain injury, I am convinced that some of the youthful offenders that I came into contact with were suffering from traumatic brain injury.
If the Commonwealth really wants to have a juvenile justice system that will really help kids, then it should use every tool available to it to have the best juvenile justice system in the United States.
These current changes to the Massachusetts Criminal Justice System, in my opinion, mainly addressed the “end users” of the criminal justice system:
My experience has shown me that society and the juvenile justice system lack the will to incorporate 21st century methods for dealing with children living in borderline, even dangerous environments where violence and disrespect is a way of life. The foster system is overburdened and, in some cases, misused. Many children should be removed from their living environments because of lack of parenting skills/involvement/care/abuse/neglect, or because there are family member(s) who already are involved with the criminal justice system, problems in school, and familial addiction issues.
My involvement with “Youthful Offenders” has helped me to define the above areas. These are the environments that they came from. The youths, mostly in their teens, had been “adjudicated adults” and sentenced to an adult penitentiary because of the serious nature of their crimes. Many of them had served time in juvenile detention. After spending numerous hours talking with them while they were incarcerated, it clearly demonstrated to me that the crime that landed them in the penitentiary was the result of many missed opportunities to correct their behavior and to prevent their incarceration. While they committed very serious and violent crimes, most of them they were just teenage boys with all the physical, psychological and emotional challenges that go along with being a teenager. It is my assertion that in many of the cases that I am familiar with, the “system” let them down. If there had been some effective intervention early on, perhaps some ofthese youthful offenders might not have been in prison. However, I am not excusing they crimes that committed that resulted in their being incarcerated.
There have been so many medical, psychological and studies of the developing brain that should be used when dealing with children who show a propensity to criminal acts or who have become involved with the criminal justice system.
There are those who believe that the obstacles to real criminal justice reform are the following:
Mt. Sturgeon is a decorated Vietnam veteran who served with the 101st Airborne Division.
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