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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

101 Days

Think about it: would you be expected to totally change the culture in your work environment in the first 100 days on the job? Or would you be happy to have found the washroom and the cafeteria in the first three-plus months?

No denying Deval Patrick has made some whoppers that would be noted on the permanent record: improper use of telecommunications equipment by calling an old friend and offering a positive evaluation of a former employer. And the new transportation and decoration plans were a bit over the top.

But as Patrick settles into the second 100 days we need to stop and reflect on what a monumental change has taken place in the Commonwealth. Not only do we have a new governor, a Democrat who actually cares about his job and stays in Massachusetts, we have a man who is open and accessible -- to students and neighbors with cell phone cameras in the vegetable aisle.

And in an instant gratification, what-have-you-done for me lately society, we have a novice executive who needed to hit the ground running with a $26.7 billion spending document bound to please none of the myriad people clamoring for new services and no new taxes.

And now, with a little breathing room, an administration that plans to take a common sense approach to public safety -- one designed to hand out punishment without being so punitive as to eliminate all hope.

Mandatory minimum sentences are another one of those conservative Republican issues designed to pander to the public (remember Bill Weld wanting to reintroduce inmates to the joy of busting rocks?) Guess what, there's another side to the story.

In Massachusetts, punishment has overwhelmed rehabilitation. And rehabilitation is not just a gooey liberal concept. If you can rehabilitate a criminal, he or she may not commit another crime when they get out.
"The concept of the revolving door -- the governor and the secretary want to look at how we stop that," [undersecretary of public safety for criminal justice Mary Elizabeth] Heffernan said, referring to Public Safety Secretary Kevin Burke. "People are moving away from the breaking-rocks portion of the program. This administration is going to take a more thoughtful and appropriate look at what works and what doesn't."
How about that: a thoughtful program that allows judges to use experience (and the facts) to make a decision on a case-by-case basis rather than a knee-jerk reaction that doesn't allow room for judgment (guess where that word comes from?)

Does this mean, as some on the right will be quick to suggest, the Deval wants to let 'em all out? No. But it does mean that people released from prison be watched carefully as they try to rebuild their lives.

If they mess up? Throw 'em back into jail -- maybe even throw away the key if necessary. But treat them on the basis of the facts in hand and not on some campaign script.

That's the kind of effort we were expecting from Deval Patrick (Kerry Healey's fear-mongering notwithstanding). And it only took 100 days, a budget submission and a few missteps to see it.

Not a bad start when you look at the whole picture.

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