Throwing real books at offenders

Laura Santana was facing two years in prison for smuggling nearly a pound of cocaine into Logan Airport.

But instead of jail, officials threw the books at her, allowing Santana to get her G.E.D. high school certificate and start classes at Bunker Hill Community College. She’s also maintained a full-time job, been seeing a therapist, and even managed to buy a home.

The Globe’s Milton Valencia reports that Santana is one of the first three graduates of a pilot program begun last year in federal court in Boston designed to try to divert nonviolent offenders to rehabilitation rather than prison.

“I truly want to make amends, and get to a place where I would never make these decisions again,” Santana told the federal magistrate who oversees the pilot project at her graduation from the program in October.

Federal prosecutors, defense attorneys, and probation officials meet to agree on cases in which defendants appear to be promising candidates for the diversion program. The ultimate outcome for defendants depends on how they do in the rehabilitation program.

Because she did well, Santana was sentenced last month to three years probation rather than any prison time.

Her case has parallels with that of Tim McManus, examined in the fall issue of CommonWealth.

McManus had no prior convictions when he was caught nearly three years ago carrying a loaded handgun at age 18 near his Dorchester home. His case took a year-and-half to come to trial, a period during which he complied with a strict curfew wearing a GPS monitor, graduated from high school, and started a job training program.

Like Santana, McManus seemed to be staying on the right path, but when his case finally came to trial the judge had no choice under state law but to give him the mandatory minimum sentence of 18 months in jail.

“At the end of the day, what do you want him to do? Turn his life around, right? Get off the streets. He did that. And then you still send him to jail,” Olivia DuBois, a social worker from Tim McManus’s high school, told CommonWealth.  “It doesn’t make any sense.”

McManus was sent to the Suffolk County House of Correction. He was attacked and badly beaten soon after arriving, however, and was transferred to the Essex County House of Correction in Middleton. He is due to be released next month.

His lawyer, his mother, and DuBois worry that jail has taken a toll that will make it harder for him to stay out of trouble when he’s released, and they are frustrated that he was incarcerated even after showing such promise on pretrial probation.

It’s the kind of argument that has prompted development of alternatives like the federal pilot project. And it’s the sort of example advocates cite in seeking to end or limit the use of mandatory minimum sentences and give judges discretion to consider the individual circumstances of cases.

Those discussions are now front and center as the state nears the end of a lengthy review of criminal justice policies expected to result in reform legislation being introduced as soon as next month.

There is very little appetite to revisit sentencing laws for gun cases or violent offenses, but advocates are concerned that even rethinking mandatory sentences for nonviolent drug offenders may not make it into a final report due to be released on Wednesday by the Council of State Governments, which has been aiding the review of state criminal justice policy.

The state’s four Roman Catholic bishops weighed in this month with a letter to state leaders urging a more comprehensive approach to criminal justice policy reform, including elimination of mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.

Whether that added measure of divine intervention will do anything to tip the scales remains unclear.

 –MICHAEL JONAS

BEACON HILL

Today is the day scheduled for departing state senators to offer farewell remarks to their colleagues — and lots of eyes will be on Brian Joyce of Milton, who has faced a federal raid of his law offices and other woes that seem to have prompted his decision to exit. (Boston Herald)

Senate President Stan Rosenberg wants lawmakers to deal quickly next year with any fixes deemed needed to the state’s marijuana law. (Boston Herald) Colorado’s “pot czar” could be in the running for one of the slots overseeing the new Massachusetts law. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini told a school committee member her career would be over if she voted against a proposal to install solar panels on a school roof. The committee member voted no anyway. (Eagle-Tribune)

The Stoughton Board of Selectmen voted not to renew the town manager’s contract, a move one dissenting member said opens the town to liability because the board has not issued an annual performance review in the last two years as required by the contract. (The Enterprise)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

The world community is trying to come to grips with a possible huge shift in US policy to cozy up to Russia and its autocratic leader, Vladimir Putin. (Boston Globe)

In a gripping display of tale of heroism and humanitarianism, Syria’s civil defense workers put their lives on the line daily to try to rescue people from the rubble they are buried in as their own government bombs city neighborhoods. (60 Minutes)

The Herald’s Jessica Van Sack says it “boggles the mind” that the country’s tech titans did not arrive for their sit-down last week with President-elect Donald Trump with an ambitious agenda to present to him.

ELECTIONS

The Electoral College meets today but despite all the noise, don’t expect a surprising change in the result. (New York Times)

Reports from election supervisors from around the country found there were a miniscule number of voter fraud incidents, debunking the claims by President-elect Donald Trump and his supporters of widespread ballot box deceit. (New York Times)

Adrian Walker ponders a potential mayoral run by Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson against first-term incumbent Marty Walsh. (Boston Globe) The Download did the same last week.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The merger between EMC and Dell has cost the United Way Tri-County, which operates in central Massachusetts, about $400,000 in annual contributions as the new company informed the charity it will not sponsor its yearly employee fundraising drive. (MetroWest Daily News)

Cliff Rucker, the owner of the Worcester Railers hockey team, buys the Bowditch & Dewey office building downtown. (Masslive)

Students in a class at Harvard Business School, who are probably heading for high-paid jobs in huge firms, have been offering management advice to mom-and-pop businesses in the Boston area. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

A Sunday Globe editorial makes a powerful case for a huge state investment in day care to make possible child care for all at a cost to families of no more than $10 per day.

Plenty of loopholes can prevent legal action against teachers who engage in sexual relationships with consenting students who are at least 16 years old. (Boston Globe)

The Patriot Ledger marks the METCO program at 50 years old.

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Urgent care centers are the fastest-growing segment of health care as more patients turn to the free-standing facilities as a treatment option instead of emergency departments or even primary care physicians. (Wicked Local)

Lowell General Hospital is in line to receive state payments under a program designed to level the reimbursement playing field between academic and community hospitals. (Lowell Sun)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren said she opposed the 21st Century Cures Act, setting her apart from the rest of the state’s delegation, because the House revamped the original bill to add “giveaways” while reducing research funding for the National Institutes of Health. (Keller@Large)

Partners HealthCare CEO David Torchiana, in a Globe op-ed, continues to pound the provider behemoth’s party line that health care costs in Massachusetts are “among the lowest in the country” when adjusted for wages as part of a campaign to thwart any state intervention on costs and health care pricing. (Boston Globe) Torchiana laid out his case in detail in a Conversation interview with CommonWealth earlier this year.

An 18-year-old West Roxbury high school student who was paralyzed from the waist down in an automobile accident three years ago is one of just 100 people worldwide and two in Massachusetts to be outfitted with an exoskeleton suit developed by a Marlborough company that allows him to stand and walk for brief periods. (Boston Herald)

TRANSPORTATION

A Herald editorial lauds Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack for holding firm on a scaled back Green Line Extension project — and slams Somerville state Rep. Denise Provost for the more sweeping project, including a bike and pedestrian path, that she advocated last week in a piece in CommonWealth.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The Baker administration, complying with a court order, sets emission targets for specific areas of the state economy. It takes aim at power plants and uses a light touch on private automobiles and trucks. (CommonWealth)

Cynthia Arcate, the CEO and president of PowerOptions, says Eversource is exploiting a loophole in state law by joining with DONG Energy to bid on an offshore wind contract. Arcate says the law is clear that utilities should not be engaged in energy generation. (CommonWealth)

Pilgrim nuclear power plant was shut down after leaks were discovered in three safety valves that are intended to prevent radioactive emissions. (Cape Cod Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Critics are raising questions about the millions of dollars in legal fees billed by Thornton Law Firm for its work on a case settled for $300 million, including billings of $500 an hour for work by the younger brother of former assistant House majority leader Garrett Bradley, who otherwise often earned $53 an hour as a court-appointed lawyer in Quincy District Court. (Boston Globe)

A federal judge orders separate trials for two men facing second-degree murder charges in connection with the New England Compounding Center fiasco. (Boston Herald)

A civil rights group is suing the state office of the Trial Court and Office of Court Management to obtain records on diversity in court hiring. (Boston Globe)

MEDIA

How Donald Trump may be good for the bottom line of the news business. (New York Times)

A Republican state representative from Brewster is calling on the director of the new Patriots Day film to recognize Dennis Simmonds in the ending credits as the fifth victim of the Boston Marathon bombings. Simmonds was a Boston police officer who died a year after the attack from wounds suffered when a bomb exploded during a chase of the Tsarnaev brothers. (Cape Cod Times)

PASSINGS

Zsa Zsa Gabor has died at the age of 99, dahlink. (New York Times)