Healey has pushed forward on some of her commission’s recommendations, including a significant but unsexy technology project to allow agencies to share criminal information. But DAs’ budgets have declined throughout Romney’s tenure, and there are 30 fewer prosecutors working in those offices today than in 2001. Police forces across the state have been slashed because of cuts in local aid. So have service programs that help prevent crime, like summer jobs, community programming, and substance-abuse treatment.
Healey has also taken a pass on wrongful convictions, declining to support legislation or other efforts aimed at improving the quality of criminal investigations. And reform of the Department of Correction — critical to Healey’s professed desire to improve ex-felons’ readiness to succeed upon release — has stalled so badly that Scott Harshbarger resigned from a state commission on correctional reform several months ago in protest, he told the Phoenix, of the administration’s laxness.
Even Healey’s strongest defenders find little to say when asked for concrete examples of how she has helped reduce crime. “Kerry Healey has been a great partner on criminal-justice issues with the DAs,” says Bill Meade, legal counsel for the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association. “It’s hard to quantify it.”
Politics Versus Progress
To some degree, Healey may have been stymied by the political whims of her boss. Absentee governor Mitt Romney cares little about criminal-justice issues — amazingly, he has never met with the state’s district attorneys — but he surely doesn’t want his office, and his presidential plans, sullied by anything that could be painted as soft on crime.
That could explain Healey’s silence on issues like CORI reform and early-release programs, as well as her avid support of headline-driven legislation, such as Romney’s death-penalty bill, and the “Ally Zapp Law” and “Melanie’s Law,” which crack down on sex offenders and drunk drivers, respectively. This week, Healey testified on a new pet project of hers, stiffening penalties for crystal-methamphetamine traffickers.
Those are easy stands to take politically, but they aren’t what law-enforcement officials need help with. “Gangs, guns, and heroin — I would shift my focus to those things,” says Bristol County district attorney Paul Walsh Jr.
The one solution Healey has espoused for urban crime — a cure-all, to hear her tell it lately — is the topic du jour of fighting witness intimidation. Healey could have been ahead of the curve on this: she co-authored a white paper (one of her four “books”) on preventing witness intimidation. Its recommendations relied almost entirely on executive, not legislative, action. Instead, she is spearheading a bill to expand the state’s witness-protection efforts.
Few in law enforcement, meanwhile, see the legislation as more than a token measure. A police captain in one hard-hit South Shore town says that while witness intimidation is a huge problem for him, he expects Healey’s bill to do little to change the situation.
On the Web:
Kerry Healey: http://www.healeycommittee.com/