In the aftermath of Domenic Cinelli’s killing of a Woburn police officer we find ourselves in a moral quagmire. Nothing short of a tectonic paradigm shift in how we create public safety will put us on steady ground.
Since the Dec. 26, 2010 tragedy, fingers of blame have pointed everywhere, but mostly at the Massachusetts Parole Board for its 2008 decision to grant Cinelli parole after nearly 30 years behind bars for multiple crimes.
What has been overlooked is the kind of “correction” Cinelli received while he did time and his preparation for returning to the community. So often what happens in the cell block comes back to haunt us on the city block.
Make no mistake. Cinelli bears the responsibility for picking up a gun and killing an officer. But beside him and the Parole Board there are others who bear responsibility as well. While this is a painful admission, we, the public, must taken some of the blame, too. How so?
For one, we have allowed ourselves to measure public safety in terms of number of law enforcement personnel and prisons. The Massachusetts Department of Correction, for example, has a ratio of one staff person for every two prisoners. The average annual cost for incarcerating a person is $47,000. Meanwhile, we have slashed funding for public education and community mental health programs, services that can help to keep people out of prison in the first place. Our priorities are out of whack.
Secondly, we may give lip service to the concept of rehabilitation for those who harm the community. But do we deeply believe and acknowledge that people, ourselves included, can learn from our transgressions and change for the better? Most people with criminal histories return to the community and silently struggle to be productive, law abiding citizens. Do we give them a true second chance to succeed on the outside? Do they get the supports and opportunities they need to transition from prison to the community?
Thirdly, when we or our community are harmed, we rightly call for justice. However, that call often takes the form of retribution. After all, those who commit anti-social acts must be held accountable for their behaviors. To look the other way is a disservice to both the perpetrator and the larger community. Like parents, a society has a duty to exact justice and provide correction. But how effective are retributive practices? Do they make transgressors into better people? Do they remove the harm done to us and our community? As Martin Luther King Jr. observed, “that old law about ‘an eye for an eye’ makes everybody blind.”
So what kind of paradigm shift can we be part of that will put us on steadier moral ground? What have we learned and how can we change? To achieve a justice that goes beyond retribution, let’s consider transformative justice — a form of justice that brings true healing of the wounded as well as the perpetrators, many of whom are wounded themselves, and transforms society in the process. Tragic histories, like the death of Woburn’s Officer Maguire, cannot be rewritten. However, we can set priorities and create policies that increase our chances for real public safety. We call upon Gov. Deval Patrick and our legislators to reconsider their propensity for more emphasis on law enforcement to affect public safety. Instead, we ask that they turn to education, health and human services to establish a firm foundation for safer and healthier communities.
Having lost two corrections commissioners in addition to the resignation of the Parole Board leadership, they can begin that process by moving the Department of Correction back under the umbrella of the Office of Health and Human Services. Like the governor who got a second chance, let’s make sure it is possible for others.
Gov. Deval Patrick says he's waiting for a report from his public safety undersecretary before passing judgment on the states decision to parole a career criminal police say shot and killed a veteran Woburn officer.
Patrick said Monday that he hadn't watched a tape of 57-year-old Dominic Cinelli's 2008 parole board hearing and warned against a rush to recriminate. He said the focus should be on Officer John Maguire's grieving family. More »
The shooting death of Woburn Police Officer John Maguire last month has revived a debate on whether - and by how much - to limit parole for repeat violent offenders.
Gov. Deval Patrick on Friday filed a bill designed to toughen the state's habitual offenders law. It would require that anyone convicted of a third serious felony receive the maximum sentence and begin serving it only after completing any prior sentences. More »
JACKSON, Miss. - Most juveniles sentenced to life without the possibility of parole in Mississippi are black, a disparity that underscores the need to reform sentencing guidelines, according to a report by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Poverty, lack of education and broken homes are among other traits shared by youngsters sentenced to spend the rest of their lives behind bars, the report said. More »