Edward “Ned” Loughran, a former priest who devoted his life to juvenile corrections reforms in America, fought against the types of prisons and laws that could turn young offenders into better criminals instead of better people.
“I think the public through their legislators are abandoning the whole notion of rehabilitation,” Mr. Loughran said in frustration in 1996 during a Globe panel discussion on the young and violent.
Mr. Loughran, who spent 13 years working for the state’s Department of Youth Services and was DYS commissioner from 1985-1993, became a leading figure in juvenile corrections.
His department was heralded in 1989 by the National Council on Crime and Delinquencies as the most cost-effective juvenile justice agency in the nation with the lowest recidivism rate.
Mr. Loughran, who founded the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators in 1994, died from cancer on Oct. 14 at his home in Winchester. He was 76.
“He was grounded in social justice Catholicism and it showed in everything he did. Though he left the priesthood physically, he never left the values he learned in the seminary,” said former Massachusetts secretary of human services Philip W. Johnston, who worked with Mr. Loughran in state government and later at the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights.
Mr. Loughran left DYS to become director of the National Juvenile Justice Project at the RFK center in 1993. “It’s a time for me to grow and for me to make a contribution on a larger level,” he told the Globe then.
Known for his gentle demeanor and keen sense of humor, Mr. Loughran was a mentor to many, including current DYS Commissioner Peter J. Forbes. Their friendship spanned 30 years, Forbes said in an e-mail.
“He was innovative and set a very positive direction for the agency. Much of what Ned initiated as DYS commissioner is still in place today,” Forbes said.
“Ned was a ‘hands-on’ agency head who took time to get to know everyone that worked for him. He was personable and his door was always open,’’ Forbes said.
Attorney Joshua M. Dohan, who heads the Youth Advocacy Division for the state’s public defenders, credited Mr. Loughran for ingraining a “deeply pro-kid culture” at DYS and promoting public safety by focusing on helping offenders prepare for life after their sentences.
“You just felt that culture in everyone you dealt with and that comes from the top,” Dohan said, adding he believes that culture continues today.
Born in 1939 in Detroit, Mr. Loughran was the son of Joseph Edward and the former Catherine Corcoran.
He earned his undergraduate and graduates degrees in divinity in the 1960s from the Mary Immaculate Seminary College in Northampton, Pa. He also earned a master’s degree in religious education in 1968 from Fordham University.
He was a Vincentian priest at St. John’s Preparatory School in Brooklyn and worked in parish ministry at St. Vincent’s Church in Philadelphia, according to his family.
In 1980, after 10 years with the New York State Division for Youth, Mr. Loughran was named deputy commissioner of Massachusetts DYS.
As commissioner, he was outspoken against what he saw as short-sighted legislation driven by headline-grabbing crimes. In 1992, he criticized a new law mandating longer prison terms in adult prison for those juveniles convicted of murder once they turned 18.
He said the change could cost millions for new facilities and could create a dangerous caldron of trouble for staff and offenders at facilities where the juveniles would have little incentive to cooperate before heading into state prison.
“We run the risk of these kids, who have nothing to lose for their behavior, contaminating the other kids in the various programs. These violent offenders are going to be rubbing shoulders with less serious offenders,” Mr. Loughran told the Globe.
That winter, he faced a protest outside his Beacon Hill home from the Guardian Angels, who accused him of not doing enough to keep killer Matthew Rosenberg behind bars. Picketers chanted for his removal as commissioner.
Rosenberg was 14 when he kidnapped and killed 5-year-old Kenny Claudio, a neighborhood boy, and put his body in a bedroom closet. DYS successfully petitioned several times to keep him in custody as a dangerous offender even after he turned 18 and was eligible for release.
But Mr. Loughran was caught in a maelstrom of public outcry when mental health professionals reported Rosenberg was no longer mentally ill. A judge had the last word. She rejected DYS’s attempt to keep holding Rosenberg. He was freed in 1992 at age 23.
Mr. Loughran, who also ran his own juvenile justice consulting business, co-wrote the book, “Balancing Juvenile Justice,” which was updated in a second edition in 2004.
He married the former Maria Matarazzo late in his life, friends said. He was in his 50s when he became a father.
“He was very excited to become a husband and a dad,” Johnston recalled. “He loved Maria and Sean very much.”
According to his family, Mr. Loughran cherished family travels to Aruba, Italy, Spain, France and Africa. He loved to take pictures and document their adventures.
In addition to his wife and son, Sean, Mr. Loughran leaves his sister Louise Gambert of East Hampton, N.Y.; his brothers, John of Middle Village, N.Y., Gerard of Garden City, N.Y., and Joseph of Albertson, N.Y. A funeral Mass was said at St. Mary’s Church in Winchester.
Michael Dempsey, the former director of Indiana’s DYS who was named Mr. Loughran’s successor at the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators, said the group “will carry on Ned’s work in his honor and work to improve conditions of confinement and long-term outcomes for youth entrusted to our systems of care all across the country.”
J.M. Lawrence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.