The news is that Governor Patrick has replaced the Commonwealth’s entire parole board, the parole office’s executive director and has suspended a number of employees of the parole office, all in response to the December 26, 2010 murder of a Woburn police officer during a robbery by a career criminal who had been paroled under questionable circumstances and who had not been properly supervised after his release from prison. The move is winning near universal acclaim and is particularly stunning because government officials are so infrequently help accountable for such lapses. Coming on the heels of the devastating report on failings of the state probation department, the discovery that the parole board had dangerous flaws of its own further sapped the confidence of citizens already feeling under siege by gun violence of the type I’d written about earlier this month.
Globe columnist Brian McGrory, while uncharacteristically complimentary of Patrick today, places this move in the larger context of other decisive personnel moves recently made by the governor (regarding the UMass Presidential search and the Department of Veterans Affairs, for instance). While McGrory is certainly correct in observing that the Governor is moving more decisively than before, I can’t help but think that the overwhelming shock of last weekend’s massacre in Tucson rattled the inertia that usually grips government and changed the rules, if only temporarily. Next on the agenda, I hope, is a wave of new legislation that enhances penalties imposed on those who use guns in conjunction with other crimes. For decades Massachusetts does have a mandatory minimum one year sentence for anyone illegally possessing a gun, but the deterrent value of that law is questionable. I believe separate crimes with harsh mandatory minimum sentences, not just enhanced punishments for the underlying crimes, should be the response to those who use guns in the commission of crimes. It may not be a deterrent and it may not lead to rehabilitation, but at least it will take some violent criminals off the street for long stretches of time.