Exposed: Mass Discrimination in Massachusetts?
Every once in awhile in the murky world of family law a light appears offering a glimmer of hope. On the flip side, Grandpa used to say: “Just make sure the light at the end of that tunnel isn’t a train.”
Divorced father and ACFC supporter, Terry Brennan, arrived recently bearing such a light. Part of the last few weeks have been spent reviewing whether Terry’s light is indeed a glimmer of hope or a train wreck in the making.
So what has Terry offered as a public service to the people of the great state of Massachusetts, and more importantly, why should anyone care? Very simply, Terry has spent the last six months quietly collecting data from officials around the state on the workings of the Massachusetts Probate and Family Courts. He has now assembled that data and released the first three volumes of what is likely an eight volume collection. The subject matter of the three volumes are; I) Guardian Ad Litems, 2) Perjury and 3) Inmates. (these are large files, may take time to download)
In this article, we take a look the data from Volume III. Terry’s volume header cuts right to the chase. It reads: “96.2% of Those Incarcerated by the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court are Male and “Justice” is Implemented Very Unevenly.” Terry then provides 35 pages of analysis and documentation proving the assertion. In the interest of full disclosure, the data does not demonstrate whether those incarcerations emanated from child support cases, protection order violations, or exactly what specifically led to the incarceration. Terry is following up with original information sources requesting clarification. Regardless of cause, the gender disparity is undeniable.
One of the points which caught our attention is the number and corresponding percentage increase in male incarceration during the years 2005 and 2006. This is precisely the same time period when an earlier re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was underway. VAWA re-authorizations are critically dependent on identifying growing populations in need of services. A proven strategy to demonstrate need is by raising arrest and conviction rates. Rising numbers of victims bring greater dollars to service providers as demonstrated in the VAWA re-authorization signed by President O’Bama last week. VAWA spending increased to over $600 million per year.
As Terry notes, not only do the actual numbers of incarcerations raise significant questions of discrimination, but so too do the rates of incarceration across counties. For instance, one in every 18 contempt case hearings results in an incarceration in Berkshire County, whereas there is only one incarceration for every 182 contempt cases heard in Essex County. Such a disparity among the courts of differing counties lends credence to failed application of evenhanded justice charges.
The information, correspondence and analysis within these volumes make for fascinating reading. Beyond that however, it should spur action on the part of elected officials to initiate thorough investigations of Massachusetts Probate and Family Courts. Volume III alone raises enough questions to justify a full inquiry. Coupling the information from Volume III with that of the initial two Volumes on GAL’s and Perjury leads one to wonder whether these courts should be reformed or, in the best interest of children and families, be dismantled entirely.
We fully expect the Massachusetts Governor's Working Group on Child Centered Family Laws to take notice of Terry’s information as they go through the process of reevaluating the state’s courts. And likewise lawmakers, it is to their benefit.
Thanks for your public service Terry, we look forward to future volumes. Let’s hope the light you’ve shined is a train wreck for the family courts. It’s certainly a light of hope for the citizens of Massachusetts and an inspiring reminder of what happens when even one person speaks truth to power.