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Baker administration defends criminal justice work; claims improvements in multiple areas, despite criticism

The Baker administration is firing back at critics of its efforts to improve the criminal justice system.

Administration officials say they are taking action to implement the steps outlined in the Criminal Justice Reform Act (CJRA) of 2018 and additional police legislation passed last year — despite criticism from lawmakers and advocates.

The "insinuation that the administration is intentionally subverting the measures adopted in those laws because of policy disagreements is not supported by the facts, said Terence Reidy, secretary of the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security in a letter to lawmakers.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Representative Michael Day wrote to Reidy last month saying that his staff has reviewed implementation of the reforms and has grave concerns regarding the administration’s willingness to implement the CJRA."

"The review has, to date, identified what appear to be some disturbing instances of noncompliance with both legal obligations and deadlines as well as outright resistance to clear statutory requirements and policy objectives," Day's letter said.

Reidy's response cites his agency's efforts to make improvements in four areas: data collection, restrictive housing in state prisons, testing of sexual assault evidence collection kits and police officer training. He also defended Bridgewater State Hospital after a report this year questioned the condition of the building and the treatment of the mentally ill men in custody there.

Reidy denied accusations that the state prison system is skirting new regulations against keeping prisoners in restrictive housing. Lawmakers had asked if there was a policy to keep a prisoner isolated for just under 22 hours — when such detentions would be required to be reported under state law.

Reidy's letter said there have been 1,361 prisoners confined in their cells for more than 20 hours, but less than 22 hours a day, since December 2020. But he said operational changes have been made to "ensure that individuals are not held in-cell for more than 22 hours." And he said the Department of Correction has no “sub-22” hour policy and has never skirted its reporting responsibilities.

Day had said that failures by Reidy's office were obstructing efforts to modernize data collection among agencies and allow lawmakers to monitor the effects of the CJRA. But Reidy said his office has made progress in creating a uniform  data system. He said most law enforcement agencies will be able to use a new system by this year.

Reidy also defended efforts to clear a backlog in testing sexual assault evidence collection kits. He said the state police crime lab identified more than 5,900 kits to be tested and sought approval for testing from the prosecuting district attorney's offices. As of this month, 1,159 have been approved for testing and about half have been sent to an independent lab.

Reidy also said that many of the lawmakers' questions about police officer training under new police reform legislation should be directed to the independent oversight boards appointed to oversee such training. Gov. Charlie Baker signed the law last year requiring a Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission to certify officers and handle misconduct complaints.

"As you are aware, the police reform law makes clear that the Commission is
an independent agency tasked with a variety of specific independent functions over which EOPSS has no control," Reidy wrote.

A Baker spokesperson said the letter was an opportunity to correct a number of inaccurate claims.

Day says he is now reviewing Reidy's response.

Related:

Deborah Becker Twitter Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.

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