The murder of former priest and convicted child molester John Geoghan in jail was yet another chapter in the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal, but it also contributed to mounting concern over Massachusetts prisons, says a Boston College Law School professor aiding efforts to reform the state correction system.

Assoc. Prof. Michael Cassidy (Law)
Earlier this month, Governor Mitt Romney appointed Assoc. Prof. Michael Cassidy to serve on the Commission for Corrections Reform, a 15-member panel headed by former state attorney general Scott Harshbarger with a broad mandate to investigate correction issues, including internal prison investigations, prisoner discipline, and classification of inmates by the level of security threat they pose.

The full-scale review was recommended after an initial investigation of the Geoghan murder, including allegations that Geoghan was harassed and abused by prison guards and left vulnerable to attack by other inmates.

"The murder of John Geoghan is only one catalyst for this long overdue study on prison reform," said Cassidy last week. "There have been many other incidents which have called out for a critical look at what we are accomplishing, or not accomplishing, in our state's prisons. Among these areas of concern are the role and viability of treatment for sexually dangerous prisoners, several high profile escapes, corruption by corrections officers, and issues related to deficient medical treatment, outbreak of disease, and addiction."

Cassidy, who joined the Law School in 1996 after serving as chief of the Criminal Bureau in the Massachusetts Attorney General's office, has offered comments to the Boston Globe, Boston Herald and New Bedford Standard-Times, among others, on high profile criminal cases, major judicial decisions and legal matters.

He also has been a keen observer of the legal and social aspects of the clergy sexual abuse scandal, and participated in a panel discussing media coverage of the crisis last February as part of the University's "Church in the 21st Century" initiative.

Whatever irony some might see in a professor of a Catholic law school serving on a commission created following the murder of a defrocked priest, Cassidy says he believes the Catholic perspective he brings to the panel's charge is a valid and useful one.

"Catholic social thought has always played a prominent role in the philosophical discourse about punishment, repentance, and forgiveness," he said. "I do think that being a Catholic and teaching criminal law at a Catholic law school provides one important perspective from which to approach these problems.

"But I also hope that my significant experience as a prosecutor contributes significant 'value added' to the important work of this commission. I expect that whatever I learn in the course of this intensive study will provide me with many useful perspectives to share in my research and my classroom."

-Sean Smith


Return to Oct. 30 menu.

Return to Chronicle home page