Editorials from around New England:
Proposed ‘clean slate’ law deserves strong, but careful, consideration
The principle behind “clean slate” laws is simple: Criminal convictions, including those for minor offenses, can follow someone their whole lives, depriving them of job opportunities, housing and education — and people who have stayed on the straight-and-narrow for years shouldn’t be penalized for minor, long-ago mistakes.
It makes sense. There are already ways for people to have their criminal records expunged, but the process, through the Board of Pardons and Parole, can be arduous. The proposed legislation would automatically erase low-level misdemeanors after seven years. Sexual assault and domestic violence convictions would not be erased.
One of the best reasons to institute a clean slate law would be to relieve the burdens of inconsistently applied laws. As we know from racial profiling and other data, communities of color often disproportionately feel the force of law. Maintaining those conviction records for years after the fines were paid can contribute to institutional racism when people of color are persistently faced with long-term consequences that others manage to avoid.
One study found that the economic costs of keeping convicted felons and former prisoners out of the workforce can be close to $100 billion annually. While the proposed Connecticut legislation doesn’t apply to felony convictions, barriers to employment do affect the job market in real ways. Those who have paid their debt to society and who have shown that they’re not likely to reoffend should have the benefit of the doubt and a real opportunity to make a contribution.
Pennsylvania recently enacted a similar law that seals certain low-level crimes. That means the conviction records can still be viewed by law enforcement and courts, employers that are required to consider criminal records under federal law, and employers that use FBI background checks. But the record would no longer be accessible to the general public.
Connecticut lawmakers should keep that in mind as they craft legislation here. There are reasons to maintain portions of criminal records for future analysis.
Consider a situation where someone 10 years from now wanted to know how many people in 2020 were convicted of a certain infraction — for possession of small amounts of marijuana, for example — and how those convictions were broken down by race or police department. Knowing how police applied the law, and how that changed over time, would clearly be a legitimate use of public information. But if all records of such convictions were wiped out, or kept out of view of the public and the press, the public would lose the ability to do that kind of analysis.
It’s important to remember that arrest and conviction data aren’t just records of criminal behavior — they are records of police behavior. That data must be preserved, and legislators should consider whether the records can be anonymized or otherwise retained in a way that doesn’t leave a trail that could be unfairly detrimental to individuals — yet allows the public to know how law enforcement is doing its job.
Connecticut has been a leader in second-chance policies over the years. A clean slate law — carefully constructed to ensure that data are retained while deserving people are relieved of the burdens of their pasts — should be a priority.
Maine doesn’t need more studies on jail overcrowding. It needs action.
“Maine faces a severe prisoner population problem. The number of inmates incarcerated in … county jails has grown far beyond expectations in recent years, stressing the capacity of existing facilities and showing no sign of slowing down.”
This statement could have been made yesterday by a county sheriff or state correctional official.
It was not. Rather, it is from the opening page of a 2004 report by Report of the Commission to Improve the Sentencing, Supervision, Management and Incarceration of Prisoners.
More than 15 years later, another task force on holding inmates who are awaiting trial has been reconvened. A task force that looked at improving the county jail funding system recently completed a report. Meanwhile, the number of inmates who have mental health and substance use concerns continues to swell.
And, this week, Penobscot County Sheriff Troy Morton told county officials that his facility would soon spend more than $1 million a year to house inmates at other facilities because the Bangor jail routinely exceeds its capacity. County officials are finalizing details on a proposed new, larger jail. We support a new facility with an emphasis on better meeting inmate needs. Not to hold more of them.
Suffice it to say, not much has changed in 15 years except for the increasing stress on county jails and their staffs. The overcrowding and lack of alternatives also harms inmates and their families.
An easy answer, of course, is to send fewer people to jail. While it sounds simplistic, it is the one answer that makes the most sense. Getting there, of course, is the difficulty. It will take time and money — and resolve.
Community treatment facilities — which were envisioned long ago by an agreement that shrank the state’s mental institutions — will need to be built and funded. More than three times as many seriously mentally ill Americans are in jails and prisons than they are in hospitals, according to a 2010 study done for the National Sheriff’s Association and Treatment Advocacy Center.
More judges need to be hired to move cases through the courts more quickly. More than two-thirds of county jail inmates in Maine are awaiting court dates. That’s nearly a two-fold increase since 1993. Many can’t afford bail, highlighting the need for changes to Maine’s bail system.
Maine has studied these problems for decades. It has a roadmap for solving them. What’s needed now is the political will — and yes, the money — to put recommendations made by several task forces and reviews into action.
It is important to note that this growing stress on our corrections system comes at a time when crime is down in Maine.
The total number of crimes reported in Maine dropped for the seventh straight year in 2018, according to data the Maine Department of Public Safety released in October. The total number of reported crimes has fallen by more than 40 percent in Maine since 2009.
Yet, in Bangor, the number of inmates in the county jail continues to exceed capacity. The Penobscot County jail has a state-approved capacity of 157 inmates, which it frequently exceeds. The Maine Department of Corrections has said it will soon enforce that limit to meet standards, which led Morton to warn Penobscot County Commissioners to expect higher bills for boarding out prisoners.
The jail has averaged about 175 inmates in recent days. In addition, the county has paid other correctional facilities to house about 55 inmates, a practice called “boarding out.” Nearly 100 people sentenced to serve time in the jail are living in the community on pretrial release under the supervision of Maine Pretrial Services.
While Penobscot County has the most chronic overcrowding problem, this is a statewide concern that requires statewide action.
Holding fewer people to jail is at the heart of the solution.
Startup accelerators like Valley Venture Mentors, TechSpring help transform our economy
The business climate of our region is transforming. Organizations like Valley Venture Mentors (VMM) and TechSpring have been instrumental in developing a culture of collaboration that will build a foundation of support in entrepreneurship that will last for years to come.
VVM organizes mentoring relationships and offers acceleators – periods of intense training and coaching – for both startups and students with ideas for business. VVM has recently opened a 10,000 square foot Innovation Center on Bridge St., in Springfield. And TechSpring, Baystate Health’s digital health care laboratory, founded in 2014, works with entrepreneurs to develop and streamline healthcare technology. TechSpring is a partner of VVM.
The innovation and collaborative processes these organizations bring to our region offer growth implications that have not gone unnoticed. The highly respected publication Inc. Magazine recently recognized Springfield in a list of 50 cities that offer the best climate to start a business.
VVM, TechSpring and the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship at UMass Amherst were cited as reasons the city scored high in wage growth, early-stage funding deals and net business creation.
It's the people of the region that bring the enthusiasm, skills and innovative thinking that drive these entrepreneurs. And VMM CEO Kristin Leutz is one of those people.
In a 2019 article for the Republican’s Outlook section Leutz wrote, “I see great things on the horizon for the Western Massachusetts entrepreneurs, and I know that we all have a stake in their success. As more companies are born and raised right here, more jobs, life-changing technologies and money will flow freely to make this a better place to live and work for us all.”
Leutz announced last week she is stepping down as CEO of VMM to take an executive role at another firm specializing in startups. Leutz has spent 10 years with VMM and she will remain to work on various projects.
The region is rich with resources and talent and operations like VMM require visionary leadership that can appreciate and guide new businesses to develop into strong economic contributors. As VMM searches for a new leader we hope the momentum that was built over a 10-year span will continue.
The case for ‘Anonymous Hall’
Is Dartmouth giving anonymity a bad name? Some people seem to think so in the wake of the college’s decision to rename a recently renovated building “Anonymous Hall.”
“I think this represents a new level of vacuousness,” emeritus professor Edward M. Bradley told staff writer David Corriveau last week. And a couple of students Corriveau interviewed seemed nonplussed by the decision. “I feel like it’s a first,” said one, and he is probably right.
But the college says it is merely following the wishes of the “generous lead donor” to the $28 million renovation of the hall formerly known as Dana, who wanted to “recognize generations of alumni who have aspired to support Dartmouth through deeds large and small, known and unknown.”
Certainly there are situations in which anonymous donations are inappropriate, such as when governmental bodies propose to accept them. In that case, the public has a right to know the identity of the benefactor lest some form of preferential treatment be afforded to the philanthropist in return.
But, skeptics notwithstanding, in this case we find it refreshing that the college has a large-scale secret admirer. The standard quid pro quo in academia is that in return for their largesse, benefactors get to bask in the reflected glory of having their names inscribed on a building. In this age of celebrity, precious few mega-donors display that “passion for anonymity” that was an admired characteristic of advisers and bureaucrats during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Dartmouth appears to have attracted a rarity.
There is also a rich religious tradition of anonymity in charitable giving, as in the New Testament Book of Matthew: “But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth, that thine alms may be in secret.” This, of course, is a reference to charity given to the poor, something that Dartmouth definitely is not. But maybe the point holds.
Moreover, we think Anonymous Hall might find favor with the English Department, given that one of the glories of the language is the epic Beowulf. The earliest known long work of literature in English, the identity of its anonymous author is shrouded in the mists of antiquity.
Dartmouth also will never find itself in the uncomfortable position of Tufts University, which last year chiseled off the Sackler name from buildings as the culpability of the family business, Purdue Pharma, in the opioid epidemic became clear. We are not suggesting that this consideration was at work in the Anonymous Hall decision, only that anonymity precludes controversy.
And, of course, naming a building for someone is best done when that person is known and revered in whatever community is conferring the honor. Take, for example, last weekend’s dedication of Windsor’s old high school gym in honor of Harry Ladue, father of the town’s recreation department and its chief for 25 years. Harry Ladue Gymnasium has a nice ring to it and will continue to for generations to come. On the other hand, too many college buildings are named for people whose chief claim to distinction is accumulating a lot of money and being willing to part with some of it in the hope of immortalizing themselves — or guaranteeing their posterity admission to the institution down through the generations.
But if the Dartmouth community really feels that Anonymous Hall invites derision, we suggest that the college take the opportunity to make the naming a teachable moment.
The template we have in mind is the sculpture that stands in the courtyard of Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in Langley, Va. It is called Kryptos — the Greek word for hidden — and consists of an 865-character encrypted message cut into a scroll of copper. It is said to contain a riddle within a riddle that is known only to the authors and the agency’s director. In the 30 years since Kryptos was dedicated, only three of the sculpture’s four panels have been decoded. The fourth has so far defied decryption, although the sculptor, Jim Sanborn, who devised the codes with the aid of Edward Scheidt, retired chairman of the CIA’s cryptographic center, has periodically provided clues.
Given that Anonymous Hall temporarily houses a section of the college’s computer science department while it waits for its own building to be completed (to be named Big Data Haul?), how about drafting a professor to encrypt a message with clues to the donor’s identity, carving the letters into the building’s walls and inviting students to unravel the puzzle?
Better a riddle than ridicule.
N.H. win propels Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders won New Hampshire’s Democratic presidential primary Tuesday night by only a narrow margin over the former mayor of a small city (half the size of Providence), Pete Buttigieg. But the victory was enough to propel Mr. Sanders to front-runner status for the party’s nomination.
That is incredible, when you think about it.
Mr. Sanders is not even a Democrat when not running for president. He brands himself an independent and a democratic socialist. He has unkempt hair and, at times, the demeanor of an angry old man. He is 78 years old and suffered a heart attack last year. That a major party is embracing him is, perhaps, as astonishing as the decision of Republicans four years ago to turn their party over to an obnoxious reality TV star with worse hair, Donald Trump.
What Mr. Sanders does have is an air of authenticity. He is who he is. And he taps into the palpable rage felt in the Democratic base over the rise of Mr. Trump and the triumph of free-market capitalism, which these supporters believe despoils the planet and leaves too many people on the losing end. He is their warrior.
He easily brushed aside Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who advances similar policies, in New Hampshire.
That is troubling to many Democrats, who fear that his far-left policies and brusque personality will drag the party down to defeat in November. A Gallup poll of Americans taken last month and released this week shows that 53% would not vote for a socialist.
But who might be the alternative?
Mayor Buttigieg, seen as more moderate, faces an uncertain future in states with a large number of African American voters, who are not particularly supportive of a gay candidate.
The longtime front-runner, Joe Biden, was popular with those voters as President Obama’s vice president. But he seems to have flamed out, finishing a distant fifth in New Hampshire. His gaffes have left many scratching their heads, and his candidacy is clearly on life support. The Democrats’ impeachment bid unhelpfully focused attention on his and his son’s dealings with Ukraine for months.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar finished a surprisingly strong third place in New Hampshire, and could be the moderate hope. But though she performed better than expected, she did finish third, not first. And she lacks the organization and the army of support that Mr. Sanders has heading into the other primaries.
Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, embraced by Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, has been touted as a moderate alternative who might save the party from destruction. With vast amounts of money to spend on advertising, he blew off New Hampshire and is counting on Super Tuesday, March 3, to propel him to contention. But tapes released this week of his comments about police strategies in New York will strike many Democratic voters as racist, and could hurt him in states with large numbers of African American voters.
On top of all this, the party must worry the base might bolt in November if Mr. Sanders were unfairly denied the nomination.
Thus, many Democrats seem to be increasingly concerned about their presidential nominee, for all the disdain many Americans have for the odious behavior of the Republican incumbent. Look for the long knives to come out against Mr. Sanders over the next several days and weeks.
Helping Nightmare Parents To Get “Woke”
According to a report this week from Robin Smith, the Troy Elementary School hired a sheriff to keep peace this season at Middle School basketball games. Law enforcement was retained after a parent heatedly accosted a coach after a game.
It was Troy in the headlines but the situation of out-of-control parents is an immemorial, and tragic, fixture at youth sports events.
It’s an odious problem that transcends place and time. We always marvel at out-of-shape boosters (typically who we know to have little on their own athletic resumes) screaming odd instructions to children, volunteer coaches and good-natured officials. It seems the lower the stakes, the worse are the parents.
The ugly behavior debases an otherwise healthy and fun recreational activity that should be universally encouraged. It’s too bad because virtually none of our kids will play college or pro ball but they will all live in communities. As such it should be the collective goal of all fans, parents, coaches and officials to model good citizenship, personal responsibility, self-restraint, sportsmanship, and fair play.
Alas, after decades of playing in, coaching, and administering youth sports leagues, we’ve decided that the only way to truly fix the problem is to ban parents. Since we’re aware that isn’t going to happen, we offer a primer to help nightmare parents “get woke.”
1) Cheer for every kid as though they were your own.
2) If a ref calls a foul, it’s a foul.
3) Forget the scoreboard and focus on the great workout and life experience your child is getting.
4) The only thing to say to your child at the end of the game is “I enjoyed watching you play.”