With as many as 600 convicted drug dealers up for early release from prison, city officials say they have a plan to limit the damage to Boston's neighborhoods.
"This is an emergency," Mayor Thomas Menino said in a joint press conference with Boston Police Chief Ed Davis and Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley.
Menino outlined a plan for Boston to deal with the fallout from the alleged actions of a "rogue chemist" at the JP Drug Lab who may have tainted samples in thousands of drug cases.
"We are concerned about the large number of individuals who will be released from state prison," Menino said, "with no plan for transition back into society, and just as concerned about those who may return to a lifestyle that can cause turmoil on our streets."
The "crisis re-entry plan" involves teams from the Boston Police, DA's office, Department of Probation and Boston Centers for Youth and Family going to prisons to talk in person with inmates.
There will be twin messages. On the one hand, that there are programs to help them with work and education and, on the other hand, that there will be "zero tolerance" for criminal activity.
Davis said all the departments concerned would be "working tirelessly to make sure the city is safe."
'A tough group of people'
The district attorney stressed that, in his view, the persons who stand to be released early are not addicts swept up in the drug war.
"It's by and large a myth that the Department of Corrections is filled with non-violent drug offenders," Conley said to a City Hall press conference packed with Boston media.
The American Civil Liberties Union has called on authorities to throw out cases with evidence tainted by Annie Dookhan, the "rogue chemist" at the center of the scandal. The rights group said the dismissals shouldn't include cases in which the defendant is also charged with gun or violent offenses.
That might not leave many cases, according to Conley's characterization of the inmates involved.
"These are not young, low-level drug addicts," he said. "It's very, very rare there's no record of violence....We're not going to take instruction from the ACLU on this issue."
Boston Police Crime Lab defended
Conley took pains to say that evidence handled by the crime lab at Boston Police Headquarters in Roxbury is in a different category from evidence processed at the State Drug Lab in JP, which was formerly run by the Department of Public Health. He said the State Drug Lab was "an utter disgrace" while praising the Crime Lab as performing "impeccable science."
Big impact in Boston
Of the 1,140 convicts identified whose cases included evidence handled by Dookhan, about half are in Suffolk County, Conley said.
"They're getting out abruptly," said Conley, proceeding to model a conversation between a prison guard and an inmate. "'By the way, it's your lucky day. Annie Dookhan handled your drugs so you're getting out.'"
Menino said an extra $3.5 million is being put aside for the costs of putting extra police on duty for the crisis.