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This is innovation?

There is much worthy of discussion and debate in the 100-page final report released Monday by the Governor’s Commission on Criminal Justice Innovation — Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey’s pet project, launched last July. (The report is online here.) But it’s a little disconcerting that after eight months of work, the commission simply copied its assessment of urban-crime-prevention strategies, wholesale and verbatim, from a six-year-old federal briefing.

The other four sections of the report — prisoner re-entry and supervision, forensic technology, cross-agency information-sharing, and criminal-justice education and training — include lengthy, state-specific analyses of "Problems, Shortfalls, and Gaps" and "Best Practices" in current programs. The section on urban-crime prevention, however, simply reprints a laundry list of "What Works" and "What Doesn’t Work" from a 1998 National Institute of Justice (NIJ) paper.

To its credit, the Healey Commission cites the federal report in a footnote and credits it with "closely examin[ing] the effectiveness and noted deficiencies" in crime-prevention programs. But the NIJ paper, "Preventing Crime: What Works, What Doesn’t, What’s Promising" (available online at www.ncjrs.org/pdffiles/171676.pdf), is itself a compendium of previous studies, some more than 20 years old. And the Healey Commission didn’t even bother to identify which programs on the list are used in Massachusetts, let alone whether they’ve been successful here. Okay, so summer-jobs programs were ineffective in 1982 — does that tell us anything meaningful about the ones in Boston today?

The commission also ignored important specifics in the studies cited by the NIJ report — someone seems to have copied the bullet points without reading the text. For instance, the commission lists Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) as ineffective in preventing crime. Actually, according to the NIJ report, DARE "fails to reduce drug abuse when the original DARE curriculum (pre-1993) is used." Gun-buyback programs are on the commission’s failure list, when the NIJ said only that programs in St. Louis and Seattle failed because they didn’t limit eligibility to city residents.

This performance shouldn’t pass muster for a high-school paper, let alone as a basis for overhauling statewide criminal-justice programs. Is it too much to ask the Healey Commission — especially the 30 members of the commission’s Urban Crime Strategies Subcommittee, which includes 10 police chiefs — actually to do some independent thinking about what might work in Massachusetts today?

Issue Date: April 9 - 15, 2004
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