AFTER THE CHAIRMAN of the House Judiciary Committee questioned Gov. Charlie Baker’s commitment to implementing the criminal justice and police reform laws, Baker officials defended their efforts in a detailed letter.
House Judiciary Committee chairman Michael Day, a Stoneham Democrat, had written to Public Safety and Security Secretary Terrence Reidy last month identifying “disturbing instances of noncompliance with both legal obligations and deadlines as well as outright resistance to clear statutory requirements and policy objectives.” Day laid out specific concerns related to provisions of the 2018 criminal justice reform and 2020 police reform laws.
Reidy responded in his own 11-page letter Tuesday that Day’s “insinuation that the Administration is intentionally subverting the measures adopted in those laws because of policy disagreements is not supported by the facts.”
“I and the Administration share your commitment to full implementation of what is a groundbreaking reform effort to right long-standing wrongs and improve how a crucial function of government serves the people,” Reidy wrote. “I also welcome this opportunity to debunk some inaccurate claims and correct imprecise statements made about the Administration’s track record on this effort.”
As CommonWealth previously reported, the state has been slow in implementing a new cross-tracking system, which would follow every case through the criminal justice system, from arrest to prison to probation. Reidy’s letter said that this effort involves a wide range of agencies, including the Trial Court, probation and parole offices, 14 sheriffs’ offices, 300 municipal police agencies, the attorney general, and others, requiring “significant technology upgrades and unprecedented cooperation.”
“Notwithstanding the scope and complexity of the cross-tracking project, the diligent efforts and collaboration of all participants has led to significant accomplishments and substantial progress towards implementation,” Reidy wrote.
Reidy said the state has promulgated uniform definitions of the data that must be collected, and created a committee that drafted memorandums of understanding related to data sharing; established a data use license agreement; standardized the booking process for correctional facilities; and hired Google to build the foundational architecture for the cross-tracking agreement. However, Reidy said there remain challenges. For example, many police departments and prosecutors have old computer systems that cannot collect the data required by state law.
Reidy addressed concerns that the state is skirting the intent of new laws about solitary confinement by saying the state provides regular reports about all inmates in restrictive housing placements. Day and others have said the Department of Correction keeps inmates in their cells for 21½ hours a day to avoid protections the new law provides inmates confined for 22 hours. Reidy said there have been 1,361 inmates held in their cells between 20 and 22 hours a day, between December 2020 and today.
In response to concerns about the speed at which the state is processing old sexual assault evidence collection kits, Reidy said the administration repeatedly raised concerns that “the deadlines imposed would be impossible to meet given the time, technology, and expertise needed to evaluate and test a [sexual assault evidence collection kits] in a scientifically rigorous manner.” Despite that, he said, of 6,502 rape kits that were pending in August 2021, the State Police crime lab has sent prosecutors information on 5,947 of them, prosecutors approved the testing of 1,159 kits, and 636 were sent to a private lab for the testing.
Reidy said Day’s questions about implementation of the police reform law should be sent to the newly formed and independent Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission, which sets standards for and certifies police officers. In response to questions about police training, he said the commission has identified 3,600 police officers who have not gone through full-time police academy training and require additional training. Of those, 863 are enrolled in a training program. The POST commission has not informed the state how it will handle the remaining officers.
Correction: The information about inmates held in their cells between 20-22 hours has been corrected to note that the number reflects the time between December 2020 and today.