Committee OK's Bill to Address Suicide Among Correction Officers and Prisoners

Friday, March 25, 2016

Here’s a thumbs-up to the legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security.

Last week, the committee rightly gave a favorable report to Senate Bill 1284 mandating a study of how to keep prisoners and correction officers from taking their own lives. Every human life is of inestimable value.
The bill, sponsored by Acton state senator Jamie Eldridge, would set up a 10-member commission whose responsibilities would include:

  • Examining and evaluating the state of jail and prison suicide prevention policies
  • Examining and evaluating suicide prevention training for correctional facility staff
  • Providing recommendations to improve observation and treatment plans for inmates identified as suicidal
  • Examining how prisons and jails can reduce stress, anxiety and depression among correction officers
Such study and evaluation are long overdue.  The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has reported that, between 2009 and 2013, there were 20 suicides in the state of persons whose occupations were listed as correction officers. 

Based on the 2012 figures, the suicide rate for correction officers is six times that of the general Massachusetts population.
There are more disturbing facts.  A 2013 U.S. Department of Justice’s Programs Diagnostic Center Study found that: (a) all corrections officers suffer from some degree of post-traumatic disorder during their careers, and (b) corrections officers, on average, do not live past the age of 58.  (That's 20 years lower than the lifespan of the average white male in the U.S. today.) 

Back in 2012, I wrote a post arguing it was time to create a monument to correction officers on Beacon Hill because we need to be reminded that they serve on the front lines of public safety, just like police officers and firefighters, who are honored by impressive monuments just steps from the doors of the State House.  If you wish, you may find that at:

Alas, no groundswell for a C.O. monument resulted.  I’m giving it another try...
I mean no disrespect for police officers or firefighters.  I’m glad they have those monuments.  They deserve them.   Totally.

But I do not know anyone who would answer correction officer if he or she were asked, “If you had to take one of only three jobs – police officer, firefighter or correction officer – which would it be?”  Do you?

I believe that, if we thought more (and more often) about what correction officers go through to earn a living for themselves and their families, we’d want to do more to take good care of them and help them live longer, happier lives.  A monument for them at the State House would serve to inspire thinking along those lines.
Let’s credit Senator Eldridge and the co-sponsors of SB 1254: Senator Jason Lewis of Winchester, and Representatives Jennifer Benson of Lunenberg, Gloria Fox of Boston and Sean Garballey of Arlington.  Kudos, too, to Senator Jim Timilty of Walpole and Rep. Hank Naughton of Clinton, who chair the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security, for pushing through that favorable report on SB 1254.  

St. Patrick Parade Isn't Quite Wheezing but It's Time to Think about a Rescue Plan

Monday, March 21, 2016

The official celebration of St. Patrick’s Day in Boston came mercifully to a close with the parade yesterday in Southie.

What, if anything, will halt the forces transforming South Boston (and other parts of the city) into precious, amenity-filled enclaves for the winners in today’s knowledge economy?

Meanwhile, some folks haven’t gotten over that gay groups are now welcomed, never mind allowed, into the parade.

A group called MassResistance issued a press release this past Monday, March 14, saying it was joining the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts in calling for “an end to the use of St. Patrick’s name in the formerly traditional Irish-Catholic parade.”

MassResistance believes the inclusion of OUTVETS and Boston Pride in the parade “is a disgrace to the Catholic saint, who is regarded as a spiritual reformer in Ireland, and is in direct opposition to Catholic doctrine on homosexual behavior.”

MassResistance demands that the Allied War Veterans Council, the parade sponsor/organizer, remove St. Patrick’s name and rebrand the event the “Evacuation Day Parade,” commemorating the March 17, 1776, withdrawal of British forces from Boston during the Revolutionary War.

I don’t know if the parade was really ever a religious event; it has certainly not been such in my fairly extensive lifetime. 

Though named for a saint, the parade has basically been an occasion to celebrate how well the Irish and their descendants have done in America.  It’s been a fairly respectable excuse to have a good time for a few hours, which is perfectly valid, social- and civic-wise, provided injuries and arrests are kept to a minimum.

At some point, most likely when the entire membership of the Allied War Veterans Council can fit comfortably into a single Uber car and no one living in Southie can count even one Irish immigrant as a grandparent, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade will die a peaceful, natural death.  Everything slides quietly into the dustbin of history eventually…unless, unless, a strong economic justification exists for keeping it alive.

The inevitable demise of the parade was on my mind the other day when I happened upon an article on the State House News Service web site regarding the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, wherein the Campaign rebuked organizations like the Massachusetts Hospital Association for opposing the ballot question the Campaign is sponsoring to legalize the recreational use of everyone’s favorite intoxicating plant.

The article said the Campaign had rented space on a digital billboard in Boston’s Seaport District, a.k.a. the South Boston Waterfront, to promulgate a message featuring pictures of a glass of whiskey, a glass of green beer and a marijuana leaf, with these words beneath each image: “Liquor,” “Beer,” “Safer.”

“Our goal,” said Will Luzier of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, “is to make this year’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities as educational as they are enjoyable.  While folks are celebrating with a pint of green beer or a glass of whiskey, we want them to think about the fact that marijuana is an objectively less harmful substance.”

Added Luzier, who served with distinction for years on the staff of former Watertown state senator Stevie Tolman: “Marijuana is less toxic than alcohol, it’s less addictive, and it’s far less likely to contribute to violent crimes and reckless behavior.”

(Translation: Young Irish-American male inebriates would be more manageable on pot than on booze.) 

Luzier’s press release statement continued: “It simply doesn’t make sense to have laws that allow the use of alcohol, yet punish adults who prefer a less harmful substance.”

Imagine you are still on the right side of the ground in March of 2041, twenty-five years hence, and that you’re physically capable of getting yourself to South Boston.  If so, you should not be surprised to see that some outfit with a name like Massasoit Marijuana Marts (Serving ALL Your Recreational Needs at 50 Great Locations!) is sponsoring the St. Patrick’s Day Parade to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. 








Armada of Lobbyists, Lawyers and Consultants Has to Fear Curtatone in His Rowboat

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

If you’re in a construction trade, you’re probably not too happy with Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone, the only person standing between Steve Wynn and his dream of a $2 billion casino in Everett.

Yet I have to believe that even the most diehard union carpenter or electrician silently admires how Curtatone is standing up so forcefully to the crowd that wants to get on with building the casino, which was renamed yesterday by Wynn as “Wynn Boston Harbor.”  (Previous name: “Wynn Everett.”)
The typical union guy would likely use a different short word for courage but I’m sure he's crediting the mayor for having guts…and getting a boot out of the mayor’s in-your-face style. 

Curtatone told the Boston Globe in late-February that he expects Wynn’s “armada of lobbyists, lawyers and consultants” to attack him personally, but vowed that “no amount of public theater and political harassment will stop me.”  For emphasis, the one-time competitive weightlifter declared, “I’m not backing down.”
Earlier this month, after Wynn’s on-site executive in Boston announced they were stopping the multi-million-dollar environmental clean-up at the site until Somerville’s challenge of a key state permit for the casino was resolved, Curtatone issued a statement that said, in part:

“We have a city to run, and we’re not going to let the antics of Wynn’s giant PR machine distract us every time they choose to issue another statement rather than get to work addressing our very real, serious and legally grounded concerns.”
On a different occasion, Curtatone told the Boston Herald, “We’re not looking to be bought off.  We’re not looking for an arbitrary payday.  We are resolved on our principles and we will fight on.”

Continuing in that vein, he said, “There are serious issues here.  We’re seriously committed to them.  We’re not backing down…The City of Somerville works with its regional partners, but make no mistake, we will not wither.”
He also said, “Not one job, not one dollar of new revenue coming to the Commonwealth (from a casino project) is worth the well-being of any resident, certainly not in my community.”

Curtatone is the kind of guy who, if you tap him on the nose, he pummels you all over -- the kind of guy that guys who wear hardhats look up to.  Mayor Joe is also the kind of genuine, sharply defined leader who could one day -- as I am not the first to observe -- be a credible candidate for governor on a Democratic ticket. 
I happened to offer that opinion in passing the other day to a former elected official, a Democrat, who is close to Charlie Baker, who responded, “Charlie’s going to be very hard to beat in 2018.”

I said, “Yes, of course.  But what if Curtatone, as an energetic upstart with a much smaller campaign treasury, decided to take Baker on?  Say Curtatone runs a good race and cuts a strong figure across the state.  Say he draws a respectable vote while still losing, then comes back four years later, like Charlie did after losing to Deval, and he wins.  A respectable-but-unsuccessful first run can be a good way to eventually become governor.”
Given the way we like to elect governors president in this country, why don’t more mayors run for governor?  The executive parallel exists:  effective mayors are in a place to demonstrate executive ability in the public sector.  A mayor makes tough choices in any number of complex areas and has to take sole responsibility for difficult decisions with the electorate, just as governors have to do. 

Mayors, however, do not become gubernatorial candidates in Massachusetts.  Maybe Curtatone will be the one to break that mold.

MITIGATE THIS! I was glad to see today that Steve Wynn is continuing his outspoken and plainspoken ways.  (In a public square stale with pre-programmed sound bites and meaningless generalities, the casino mogul is a breath of fresh air.)  Speaking with reporters at an office he has in Medford, Wynn commented thusly on the expensive community agreements he had to negotiate:  "If someone had a hemorrhoid, we had to mitigate it."

'Fake' May Not Have Been the Best Word for Romney to Hurl at Trump

Friday, March 4, 2016

As he was speaking yesterday morning in Utah, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney must have known he was not the best one to deliver the message that Donald Trump is “a fake,” and that a “business genius he is not.”

He must have known every reporter would dig up what he’d said in February, 2012, when Trump endorsed him for President, which was, one, “I’m so honored and pleased to have his (Trump’s) endorsement,” and, two, “I spent my life in the private sector. Not quite as successful as this guy (Trump), but successful none the less.”

Why did Romney give that speech?  My guess he could not help himself: he could no longer contain his disgust for Trump.  Of course, everything he said about Trump was dead-on accurate.

“If we Republicans choose Donald Trump as our nominee,” Romney said, “the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished.” Check.

“If Donald Trump’s plans were ever implemented,” he said, “the country would sink into prolonged recession.” Check.

“Mr. Trump’s bombast,” he said, “is already alarming the allies and fueling the enmity of our enemies.”  Check.

“I’m afraid,” he said, “that when it comes to foreign policy he (Trump) is very, very not smart.” Check.

Romney’s attack was hardly a political masterstroke.

He did not endorse any other Republican candidate.  His core message was unrealistic and rather strange: I think he was suggesting that the three men still in the race besides Trump should collude in taking turns winning the various upcoming primaries.

“Given the current delegate selection process…,” he said, “I’d vote for Marco Rubio in Florida and for John Kasich in Ohio and for Ted Cruz or whichever one of the other two contenders has the best chance of beating Mr. Trump in a given state.”

That counsel aims to deny Trump a majority of delegates, apparently in the hope of creating a deadlocked convention.

There is no doubting Romney’s intellectual skills. He’s accomplished extraordinary things in his life and has raised a wonderful family with his wife Anne. By any measure – and dramatically so compared to Trump -- Romney is a thoroughly decent and compassionate human being.  But he was born lacking any particular talent for politics. 

While he certainly got better at politics since his first unsuccessful run for office against Ted Kennedy, there are many intangibles about the political arts that have always eluded him, and doubtless always will.

Within a couple of hours of Romney’s speech, the New York Times posted an editorial on its web site under this headline: “Mitt Romney Aims at Donald Trump, Hits GOP.” Check.

You may find the NYT editorial at: