By Nancy Gertner | The Boston Globe | May 18, 2014
Anyone of a certain age remembers Willie Horton. Furloughed in 1986 from a life sentence for murder, Horton, who is black, raped a white woman and assaulted her fiancé. But Horton’s legacy extends beyond the horrific crime he committed.
Many have blamed Governor Michael Dukakis’s failed presidential bid that year on publicity surrounding the case. Less often discussed is how far Horton’s crime set back criminal justice reform in Massachusetts — and still does to this day.
We like to think of Massachusetts as a progressive state, and it was on crime, too — until Horton. Indeed, except for our prohibition of the death penalty, there is little to set us apart from the Southern states that many in the Commonwealth consider overly punitive. Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, Georgia, and South Carolina have all gone farther to reduce prison populations than Massachusetts. Horton’s shadow persists, silencing politicians who would be smart on crime rather than mindlessly tough. Continue reading »