CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM advocates may have been looking to the arrival of a new Democratic governor on Beacon Hill to turn the page on differences they had with the Baker administration, but they will have to do it with the same cabinet secretary overseeing public safety issues.
During the transition, Gov. Maura Healey said she was not closing the door to retaining members of outgoing Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s team. Earlier this month she showed she meant it by reappointing Terrence Reidy as secretary of public safety and security.
In announcing Reidy’s reappointment last month, Healey said “he has a proven record of keeping our communities safe.”
So far, lawmakers and criminal justice advocates are willing to give Reidy the benefit of the doubt, taking a wait-and-see attitude on whether his appointment will mean a continuation of the status quo or a new beginning with a new boss.
Elizabeth Matos, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts, said a culture shift is needed at the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security. She said it’s unclear whether Reidy is the right person for the job. “It remains to be seen whether he’s the change agent the institution needs,” she said.
Democratic leaders on criminal justice issues in the Legislature clashed with the Baker administration over some issues, with the co-chairs of the judiciary committee, Sen. Jamie Eldridge and Rep. Michael Day, charging that the administration was slow to implement provisions of a sweeping 2018 criminal justice reform bill, including its call for more data transparency on the corrections system.
When Eldridge and Day invited Reidy to testify at a hearing in December on implementation of the reform law, he declined to appear and instead provided a 14-page letter detailing what he said was the Baker administration’s commitment to “faithfully execute the requirements” of the criminal justice act.
Eldridge and Day butted heads last year with Baker over his effort to expand the list of crimes eligible for a “dangerousness hearing,” which would allow a defendant to be held without bail. The two lawmakers opposed the changes. Their differences took on a personal edge after Baker convened several panels in which victims of sexual assault and domestic violence – crimes that would have been covered under his bill – advocated on behalf of his proposal. Baker accused Eldridge and Day of offering a “harsh, cold, and callous response” to the victims.
The Senate approved a modified version of Baker’s proposal – over Eldridge’s objections – but the House did not and the measure died at the end of the session. Sen. Bruce Tarr, the Republican minority leader, has reintroduced the bill for the new two-year session that began last month.
Eldridge said Baker “took very personally” the Legislature’s failure to adopt his proposal. “I don’t know for certain, but I suspect that carried over into the decision by Secretary Reidy not to come before the Judiciary Committee,” he said of Reidy’s failure to testify at the December hearing.
Eldridge suggested that decision, like the sparing use under Baker of a new provision allowing for medical parole of terminally or severely ill inmates, wasn’t necessarily a call made by Reidy but was “made in the governor’s office.”
“I personally see it as a clean slate with the new administration,” said Eldridge. “I talked to Secretary Reidy the day of his reappointment. I will say I think he’s got a good team of people that are pushing for progressive change in the prison system, and now is the time to hopefully move at a quicker pace with the blessings of a new governor.”
In a statement, Day said the December hearing “highlighted the Legislature’s concern with the Baker administration’s lack of transparency and failure to implement statutes intended to modernize our criminal justice system. My hope is that Secretary Reidy’s reappointment signals a new commitment from [the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security] to fully undertake the work expected and required of it.”
Given his unusual status as a cabinet secretary staying on from one governor’s team to the next, Reidy seemed to thread the needle of defending the work done under Baker, while making it clear that he’ll be taking marching orders from a new boss. “We have made significant progress in furthering critical reforms,” he said in a statement, while saying he is honored to be continuing his service and leading the public safety agencies to “building on that momentum” as he works “to implement Gov. Healey’s vision for a safe and equitable Massachusetts.”
Healey has voiced support for many of the reforms that were part of the 2018 law, while also sharing her differences with progressives over some issues like their calls for a ban on the use of facial recognition software.
On lots of issues, however, her “vision for a safe and equitable Massachusetts” remains unclear.
Asked whether the new governor supports some expansion of the crimes eligible for a dangerousness hearing, a major issue of public debate last year, a Healey spokeswoman offered no position. “Gov. Healey supports reforms to protect victims while also protecting due process,” she said. “She will review any legislation that reaches her desk.”