Editor's note, summer 2015
OUR SUMMER ISSUE includes stories and analysis on a wide variety of topics, everything from criminal justice reform and climate change to Uber and the incomprehensible medical bills we receive in the mail. Some of these stories deal with subjects and individuals with connections to our parent organization, MassINC—a relationship worth exploring in a bit more detail.
MassINC was established nearly 20 years ago as a nonpartisan think tank focused on research, events, and journalism to explore a broad range of issues affecting life in Massachusetts. In recent years, MassINC has added new elements to the mix, creating a polling group subsidiary and a Gateway Cities Innovation Institute. MassINC also helped form the Criminal Justice Reform Initiative, which is pushing for a number of changes in the state’s criminal justice system.
CommonWealth strives to be an independent voice, but that doesn’t mean we don’t interact with other employees at MassINC or share an interest in the issues with which they are involved. Indeed, the founders of MassINC envisioned a think tank that would examine many of the same issues through the different prisms of research, events, and journalism.
Our cover story by Michael Jonas is focused on criminal justice reform, particularly the debate over mandatory minimum sentences. Michael’s story includes the voices of people on all sides of the issue, including those who served time in prison under a mandatory minimum sentence and those who lost their driver’s license because of a drug conviction. The story captures the high-stakes debate raging on Beacon Hill in all of its personal and political dimensions.
I have two stories in this issue that have connections to MassINC. One is a conversation with John Grossman of Third Sector Capital, a company developing pay-for-success projects for government agencies here in Massachusetts and across the country. With pay-for-success, private groups put up the money for a program to address a specific social ill and get paid back (plus a profit) if the initiative is a verifiable success. I’ve always been fascinated with the concept, but never fully understood it because it’s so complicated. The conversation allowed me (and hopefully you, too) to learn more. Yet it’s worth noting that Grossman serves on the Criminal Justice Reform Coalition and his big project in Massachusetts centers on Roca, a Chelsea nonprofit that is trying to help those released from prison stay on the outside. MassINC’s president, Greg Torres, previously served as chairman of the Roca board.
I also wrote a feature story on Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera, and his handling of a problematic School Department office lease. What I found fascinating is that Rivera is trying to address problems in Lawrence that his predecessors ignored, but his sometimes heavy-handed approach utilizes some questionable tactics that his predecessors might have employed.Rivera is a co-chair of the Gateway Cities Institute and MassDevelopment, a state authority that figures in the story, has been a MassINC sponsor. Neither Rivera nor MassDevelopment used their connections to MassINC to attempt to influence the story, nor did I pull any punches because of their involvement.
Enjoy the magazine.