By Wei-Huan Chen
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Juliette Kayyem called for an overhaul of Massachusetts' criminal justice system, saying she will work to reverse the state's 30-year history of "throwing everyone into jail."
To do so, Kayyem would give inmates more job opportunities, reunite them with their families and help drug addicts, including deserving veterans, stay out of jail.
In a comment that Kayyem said sets her apart from her Democratic opponents, she said, "The decriminalization of marijuana has been important. I think we should consider it for other drugs."
She said her stance on the decriminalization of drugs sets her apart from other Democratic candidates, although she did not specify which drugs she would decriminalize. She also advocated for more drug courts and veteran's courts.
Kayyem made the comments on March 19, at the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service at Suffolk University Law School. She was the ninth and final speaker for the center's series on gubernatorial candidates.
Born to Lebanese immigrants, Kayyem now lives in Cambridge with her husband and three school-age children.
She served under Deval Patrick as the first undersecretary of homeland security beginning in 2007. She was also part of President Barack Obama's transition team and served as Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs at the Department of Homeland Security.
Prior to announcing her candidacy for governor, she was also a correspondent on CNN, NBC and MSNBC News and a columnist for the Boston Globe.
Kayyem said a $1 billion fund to build new prisons by 2020 is an example of the need to shift the state's focus toward reducing recidivism.
"That's $1 billion to keep people out of prisons," she said.
Kayyem said Massachusetts has had a law and order philosophy with its jails that's "broken, period."
"You can't throw out entire generations of essentially minority men and feel like this is good for Massachusetts," she said.
A criminal justice overhaul is one part of Kayyem's vision to "shift, share and surge"— shifting funds from jails to community colleges, creating "green banks" to lure companies committed to sustainability with tax incentives and boosting the economy.
On day one, she will create a program to "get these companies here who are trying to do the long term solution outside of changing individual behavior and get us to renewables in a meaningful and effective manner that still makes us globally competitive."
Her economic plan would begin with investing in infrastructure and bringing rail lines to ports like New Bedford and Gloucester.
"We are a port state. Our ports are not ready to compete in the global maritime competition, and they should be," said Kayyem.
She would also focus on vocational skills and providing better job training to students.
Kayyem said her military background has scared some Democrats. She said homeland security is about risk reduction and that she is the only Democratic candidate with strong ties to the military and veterans.
She supports Massachusetts' course of action for bringing in casinos. She will not repeal them on day one.
She said she does not "believe we need a course correction after eight years" under Deval Patrick's administration.
When asked about her work on a 2004 report on interrogation techniques, she countered allegations she condoned torture in the report: "Those rumors are false."
The report examined the legal limits of issues including assassination, coercion, detention, infiltration and profiling. Kayyen said she does not condone torture and has fought back against Bush's executive power. She said she has been called a terrorist on air for opposing the Iraq War.
On gun control, Kayyem advocated for the one-month rule for gun purchases—one gun per individual per 30 days. She said the policy was an easier political battle than a ban on assault rifles.
Kayyem raised a big issue in the state—the cost of childcare.
"We need to think of childcare as the feminist issue of our time. We have to optimize the choices for working mothers," she said.
The 2014 Massachusetts gubernatorial election will take place on Nov. 4. Candidates include Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, State Treasurer Steve Grossman and Republican Charlie Baker, who ran for governor in 2010.