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Advice for Charlie Baker: Criminal justice

Governor-elect Charlie Baker.AP

Criminal justice issues loom large this season, and Governor-elect Charlie Baker has an opportunity to capitalize on shifting public moods, push for innovative policies, and even wield national influence. Here, Globe Opinion writers offer him some advice.

Consider the death penalty

Two capital murder cases will be in the spotlight this year: the sentencing phase in the retrial of serial killer Gary Lee Sampson, and the prosecution of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev. Both will be in federal court; in both, the government is seeking the death penalty. For Baker, the timing presents an opportunity to press for a restoration of capital punishment to the Commonwealth’s criminal code. In the most horrific cases of premeditated murder, should judge and jury have the option of imposing the death penalty if that’s what justice requires? Baker says yes — and with the Sampson and Tsarnaev cases as benchmarks, most Massachusetts residents are apt to agree.



Invest in SSYI

2 The Safe and Successful Youth Initiative, launched by Governor Deval Patrick in 2011 to reduce youth violence in 11 cities, focuses on young men with a propensity for violent crime, and has yielded impressive results. One report shows that for every dollar invested, taxpayers have saved as much as $7.35 from the resulting crime reductions. During the gubernatorial campaign, Baker committed to funding the annual $9.5 million initiative and supported its expansion, such as creating a new Dual Generation program for proven-risk youth who have children. Given Baker’s results-driven philosophy, growing the program would be a wise investment: reducing incarceration, helping youth offenders, and saving taxpayer dollars.


Work around Secure Communities

There wasn’t much Governor Deval Patrick could do when the federal government decided to expand Secure Communities, the controversial program that requires local law enforcement to submit data to the federal government, for use by immigration officials, about undocumented immigrants they encounter. But Patrick was rightly vocal in his opposition — the program is ineffective and needlessly harsh, and more than half the people deported under it don’t have criminal records. Baker should follow Patrick’s lead and support a bill called the Trust Act, a measure that would bar police from holding anyone other than serious criminals for immigration agents to pick up.



Reform drug sentencing

Last month, a state commission charged with studying the criminal justice system came up with a bold proposal: End all mandatory minimum sentencing for drug-related offenses. Baker is well positioned to carry that flag. As the commission noted, mandatory drug sentences are a key cause of prison overcrowding, and disproportionately affect poor and minority communities. Baker campaigned in favor of reducing the prison population, shifting the focus of prisons toward rehabilitation, and seeking new approaches to the drug-addiction crisis. He should, however, heed the advice of Andrea Cabral, the current secretary of public safety, and carve out an exception for drug trafficking crimes.