, Salem, MA

September 20, 2013

Our view: Cheers, jeers for local newsmakers

The Salem News

---- — CHEERS to the state Legislature and Gov. Deval Patrick for significantly changing the way youthful offenders are dealt with in the state’s juvenile justice system.

Earlier this week, Patrick signed into law a measure that raises from 17 to 18 the age at which young offenders can be prosecuted as adults. It was a wise move; treating 17-year-olds as adult criminals leaves them vulnerable to abuse, including rape, in the corrections system and more likely to reoffend upon release.

Under the new law, local district attorneys can still seek adult charges for serious crimes, especially those involving violence. Most 17-year-olds arrested in Massachusetts, however, are charged with nonviolent offenses.

Ipswich state Rep. Brad Hill, who deserves special note as a champion of the bill, frequently cites a Northeastern University study that shows youths placed in the adult system are 34 percent more likely to be rearrested for a violent offense than those placed in the juvenile system.

The measure also had the backing of the Massachusetts Bar Association and state court system. Judge Michel Edgerton, chief justice of the Juvenile Court, told the State House News Service Wednesday that 17-year-olds still lack the maturity of adults and have a greater capacity for rehabilitation.

“The Massachusetts Bar Association commends the governor, the House of Representatives and the Senate for rectifying the inequity of treating 17-year-olds as adults, regardless of the crime or circumstances surrounding their arrests,” the MBA’s Martin Healy said in a statement. “This is more than just common sense; this is an important and much-needed change that ensures 17-year-olds are placed in a more effective rehabilitative setting.”

JEERS, meanwhile, to the MBTA for continuing to stick it to the elderly and disabled with increased fares for the Ride program.

The Ride is a door-to-door para-transit service mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act and run by the MBTA. It is a lifeline for the more than 30,000 people who use it.

In 2012, the MBTA doubled the fares on the Ride from $2 to $4 and added a $5 charge for trips that were scheduled late or were bound for a “premium” zone. In short, the steepest fare increases were aimed at those who could least afford it.

Now a new study is showing the effects on elderly and disabled riders: The State House News Service reported that a majority of Ride users who make less than $2,000 a month “cut back on food, personal grooming and transit trips” after the fares increased.

According to the state study, 17.6 percent of Ride users said they have cut back on their medications, and 22.3 percent made partial payments or skipped payments entirely for phone or utilities, and 71.5 percent said they have less spending money.

Certainly, this is not what the Legislature and the MBTA was looking for when they designed their first bailout plan for the perpetually cash-strapped agency. Here’s an idea: Why not eliminate the Legislature’s per diem system, in which lawmakers are paid for simply driving to work, and put the $200,000 or so in savings toward Ride fare cuts? It won’t solve the entire problem, but it would be a small start. And we all have to make sacrifices these days. Even lawmakers.

CHEERS to the Peabody Essex Museum for lifting its ban on visitor photography in its galleries.

Jay Finney, PEM’s chief marketing officer noted the change only makes sense in these times, when seemingly everyone has a smartphone with a camera and at least one social media account.

“They’re going to take the picture one way or another,” Finney told reporter Bethany Bray. “We would just like to remove the tension of being approached and asked not to do it.

“To ask (patrons) to leave their digital lives at the door ... seems kind of archaic,” he said. “Sharing images and what people are experiencing is a great thing for us. ... The more people we can touch with our collection, in whatever form, the better.”

We agree. Of course, as much as we like seeing users’ shots on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, nothing beats seeing the real thing, in person.