In the latest result of the Jamaica Plain crime lab scandal in Massachusetts, convicted criminals are leaving jail and a district attorney recoils at the damage done. An article in today’s Boston Herald says that the cases of at least twenty inmates have been affected so far, and more releases will soon follow.
The wrongdoing at the lab, in which protocols were not followed and results were possibly falsified, points out the importance of many of the recommendations in Failed Evidence and in the National Academy of Science’s 2009 report on forensic sciences: established protocols that trigger systemic warnings if not followed; laboratory accreditation and analyst certification; and regular proficiency and quality assurance testing, just to name a few. But it’s actually more instructive to hear the comments of Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey, upon hearing that inmates serving sentences had been freed because of the scandal:
It makes me feel sick that the hard work that had gone into prosecuting these individuals could be thrown out the window…There will be a larger onslaught in the coming weeks of people who have committed very serious crimes who will be let out of jail or face significantly lesser charges. It leaves me kind of speechless that one individual could cause so much damage.
There’s only one thing you can say to this: Mr. Morrissey is right. A lot of hard work by good police officers and dedicated prosecutors has gone for naught, and some number of guilty people will get out of jail or serve less time than they could have — something they do not deserve. It is a huge waste and a real injustice, which will only be compounded if the individuals freed go out and commit more crimes.
We don’t yet know the full story: was this one rogue lab worker, as Mr. Morrissey’s statement suggests, or was the wrongdoing more widespread? Whatever the answer to that question is, we know that, going forward, all of the leaders in the criminal justice system who have felt the impact of this scandal must lead the way to comprehensive reform. Nothing less will do, because nothing less will assure us that the same thing can’t happen again.