The head of Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s panel to reform the state’s prison system has resigned in frustration, saying the governor has neglected the issue as he prepares a possible bid for president, the Boston Globe reports. The chairman — L. Scott Harshbarger, a former Democratic attorney general of Massachusetts — said too little has been done since the jailhouse slaying of ex-priest John J. Geoghan in 2003. The case triggered widespread calls for a sweeping review of prisons, including an examination of prisoner assignments, after it was disclosed that low-risk offenders are sometimes housed alongside the most hardened criminals.
Said a Romney spokesman: ”While we have more work to do, we are pleased with the progress we have made so far.” Last year, Harshbarger’s panel recommended 18 major changes, including allowing prisoners who are preparing to reenter society to move to less secure settings, where they could receive job training and counseling for drug abuse and mental illness. The panel also called for changes in guard contracts to strengthen the hands of managers, more money for inmate counseling, the appointment of an independent inspector general for prisons, new systems to review allegations of prisoner abuse, and changes to mandatory minimum sentences for some crimes. Harshbarger told the Globe he was particularly concerned by Romney’s lack of leadership on changing the way prisoners are assigned. ”That is one of our major action points that has not happened,” Harshbarger said. ”There is a problem.”