But at least one person did object. Newton's Democratic state senator Cynthia Creem voiced skepticism in a July 29 Newton TAB op-ed. Mindful that the most egregious provisions of the Patriot Act have been used to target not just terrorists but journalists, activists, and Muslim charities, she wrote: "I cannot support this attack on privacy rights when less-invasive and equally effective means are available. Our liberties should never be sacrificed in the name of prosecutorial convenience." A few other scattered voices in the State Senate echoed Creem. But perhaps Creem's reference to "convenience" missed the point — prosecutorial power appears to have been the more likely goal.
When the bill was passed by the Massachusetts House and presented to the Senate, Coakley, having learned that other politicians were questioning the bill's scope, lobbied hard so that no language would be changed (which would have required passage again through the House). With robust MDAA support, as well as the backing of key legislative leaders, 11 different role-call votes for amending provisions of the bill were voted down. Less than two weeks after this truncated debate, the bill became law. Experienced observers of the legislative process marveled at the ability of Coakley and her allies to forestall changes to the legislation.
The United States — "land of the free" — has five percent of the world's population, but it also, thanks to the lobbyists and officiants behind the prison-industrial complex, shamefully holds 25 percent of the world's incarcerated. It has a higher rate of imprisonment than the planet's most notorious despotisms. One in 100 Americans is in jail.
These citizens are not only unproductive, they cost the public $45 billion a year, according to a June report by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. And yet they also keep a small army of officers and other law-enforcement support personnel on the job. The monumental taxpayer's tab that would be unnecessary with saner criminal-justice laws is virtually incalculable.
It is long past the time to re-think how much credence we should give to those who claim to be experts in law enforcement, but who, in reality, have simply discovered a steady and ever-increasing source of job security.
Their First Amendment right to lobby for endless new criminal laws and ever-tougher prison sentences is indeed constitutionally protected, but this does not mean that these law-enforcement officials' criminal "expertise" should endow them with a free pass from critical scrutiny. Legislators and the public need not sit by idly as their fellow citizens are unjustly arrested, prosecuted, and often incarcerated for increasingly lengthy periods of time as the law-enforcement industry's wallet grows fat. The next time prison-industrial-complex adherents tell us we need tougher laws and sentences for our own good, we should point out precisely whose good is being served.
Harvey Silverglate is a criminal defense and civil-liberties lawyer and writer. Kyle Smeallie, former associate editor of the Boston College Heights, is Silverglate's research assistant and paralegal. Silverglate's next book, Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent, is forthcoming next year from Encounter Books.