To no one's surprise, the Massachusetts State Legislature succumbed to its baser instincts when it passed a modified "three strikes" criminal-sentencing bill, which would make felony offenders ineligible for parole if two prior crimes resulted in prison sentences of three years or more.
It is true that the bill would reduce mandatory-minimum prison terms for drug offenders — and that, a longtime goal of Governor Deval Patrick, is welcome news.
But it is not enough. Mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenders should be abolished.
"It's a good bill," Patrick says. "It's not a great bill." That's baloney. The governor is playing politics. That may go with the job, but it doesn't mean the rest of us have to be fooled by the Beacon Hill fan dance.
California was once the poster child for three-strikes legislation. Today it is widely recognized that the law led to grossly overcrowded prisons that have provoked the intervention of federal courts; contributed to the state's mounting budget woes; and further exacerbated racial tensions that spring from a criminal-justice system that disproportionately targets non-whites.
More and more states, including staunchly Republican strongholds in the deep South, have taken this lesson to heart and are heading in different directions.
Not Massachusetts. Whenever the Bay State considers criminal-justice reform, it seems to take two steps backward before it takes one step forward.
In other circumstances, the Phoenix would recommend that Patrick veto the legislation. That's not an option this time. The bill passed with a veto-proof margin.
What Patrick must do is recommend that the legislature amend the provision so that judges have the authority to approve parole for offenders who have served most of their sentences.
This "safety valve" would give judges the discretion they need to avoid a one-size-fits-all parody of justice.
Is this enough? Not by a long shot. Next year Patrick should push for further easing of mandatory sentencing and for improving convict re-entry programs.
Amending "three strikes," however, should not wait until next year. Convincing the legislature to adopt the safety valve should be a top priority.
THERE HE GOES AGAIN
There is no doubt that the Chik-fil-A sandwich chain is an insult to local sensibilities.
Owned and run by Christian fundamentalists, Chik-fil-A promotes marriage for the God-fearing, which is a thinly veiled code for opposing same-sex marriage.
For some reason, Chik-fil-A wants to come to Boston. You'd think the Bible thumpers would want to steer clear of our veritable Sodom on the Charles. But no. The allure of profits, filthy lucre, must be too great.
Northeastern University was going to rent to the chicken chain, but reversed the decision in the face of a campus outcry.
The mighty cultural icon known as the Muppets, which accepted sponsorship from Chik-fil-A, has also divorced itself from the sandwichistas.
And last week, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, long a champion of gay rights, more or less said that he would use the city permitting process to deny the chicken carvers the outlet they seek on the Freedom Trail.
Either Chik-fil-A has more pluck than most corporations or they have a bird-size brain.
Did they ever get the memo that Massachusetts was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage? Don't they recognize that a backward-looking social philosophy is essentially incompatible with the forward-looking message inherent in the Freedom Trail?