Writing in the Boston Globe, Nancy Gertner, a Harvard law professor and former U.S. judge, says criminal justice in Massachusetts still is shadowed by the legacy of Willie Horton, the killer who raped a woman during a furlough in 1986. Many have blamed Gov. 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, Gertner says.
Massachusetts’ record as a progressive state on criminal justice ended with Horton, she says. Except for its prohibition of the death penalty, there is little to set the state apart from the Southern states that many in the Commonwealth consider overly punitive. Horton's shadow persists, silencing politicians who would be smart on crime rather than mindlessly tough. Gertner urged support of a number of justice reforms now begin considered in the state. She concludes, “It's time for Massachusetts to follow the lead of the rest of the country on criminal justice— indeed, the civilized world — and finally escape Horton's shadow.”