What Will Candidates for Governor Say About Criminal Justice?

An upcoming forum at Harvard promises to get the wannabes talking about some thorny issues for Massachusetts.

If you’ve been following criminal justice issues in the news, you might wonder why anyone would want to be governor of Massachusetts. In just the past few weeks, Deval Patrick has taken heat for the death of prisoner Joshua Messier, he’s been late to the game in responding to the fact that women prisoners have for years faced shackling during childbirth, and his management of agencies has come under question, extending to the Hinton State Drug Lab where, so far, $18 million has been spent dealing with falsified drug tests that put thousands behind bars for nonviolent offenses.

In spite of all this, the gubernatorial candidates will gather at the Forum on Criminal Justice at Harvard Law School to declare or deepen their already published positions on criminal justice issues. Presented by the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice, the forum is co-sponsored by Middlesex Community College* and Harvard’s Black Law Student Association. Harvard Law School professor Charles J. Ogletree Jr. and former federal judge Nancy Gertner, now teaching at Harvard Law, will moderate.

Forum candidates include Evan Falchuk of the United Independent Party, Republican Mark Fisher, Democrat Steven Grossman, and Democrat Juliette Kayyem. Of course, whether the hopefuls will openly criticize Patrick remains to be seen, but they’ll certainly have to tackle thorny issues, such as mandatory minimum sentencing, solitary confinement, and a parole strategy that works; the need for bail reform vs. building new jails; the question of how to deal with overcrowded and exorbitantly expensive prisons; and the kind of re-entry we need for prisoners coming back to our communities.

Pro tip: Get there early. There’s no doubt a mountain of criminal justice issues in Massachusetts, and plenty of people who want to find out how the candidates plan to deal with them.

Thursday, March 13, 6-8 p.m. Free admission. Harvard Law School, Wasserstein Hall 2036, Milstein East, 1585 Mass Ave., Cambridge. Info: charleshamiltonhouston.org

*Full disclosure: The writer teaches at Middlesex Community College.