A Reporter story published last month  after a multi-week probe into the operation of so-called sober homes in the city raises important policy questions that demand answers from the industry and from our city and state governments. The report— done in partnership with Northeastern University’s Initiative For Investigative Reporting — found that local authorities have virtually no regulatory controls over these homes. Alarmingly, neither city nor state government officials could tell us with any level of certainty just how many such homes exist in our neighborhoods.
Our reporting suggests that as many as 60 homes are operating within city limits at this time — including roughly a dozen in Dorchester. And while there is no question that these homes are sorely needed to assist recovering drug and alcohol abusers as they transition into a new, healthier lifestyle, it is essential that these homes be veritable safe havens — for the men and women who are their clients and for the surrounding neighborhoods, who may not even be aware of their existence.
The present situation is unacceptable, particularly because the state’s Probation Department — itself now the subject of intense scrutiny over allegedly improper hiring practices— still routinely refers recently released prisoners to these sober homes, despite the lack of oversight. The Legislature has ordered a study to get a handle on the potential scope of the problem— and that is a good first step. Still, that report is not due to be completed until the end of 2011.
Officials in Massachusetts should get ready to implement new measures and controls on this industry now. They can start by looking at progressive measures that have been taken elsewhere in the country, as our report pointed out. In St. Paul, Minnesota, owners of sober homes formed their own accredited organization three years ago that meets with city and state officials to devise common-sense regulations and to train managers. The Minnesota model can and should be replicated here in Boston and throughout the Commonwealth to ensure that our neighborhoods — and the people who desperately need safe, sober homes in our communities— are treated fairly.
– Bill Forry
Chuck Turner’s fall
Yesterday, after this week’s Reporter went to press, the Boston City Council was poised to do something it had never never done before: Expel one of its own from office. It shouldn’t have had to come to this. District 7 councillor Chuck Turner, convicted last month of taking a $1,000 bribe, should have resigned instead of forcing his colleagues to take this unprecedented, but necessary step.
It was Turner’s decision to go to trial, to take the stand, to mount a defense in which he basically testified that he could not recall the bribery exchange with the FBI’s informant, Mr. Wilburn. It was not a credible defense, given the evidence presented and Turner— predictably— lost. Whether or not Turner ever transgressed before or since, the punishment must be sure and swift: Any abuse of the public’s trust cannot be tolerated.
It’s time for new leadership in the Seventh District and there are many good candidates ready to step forward and lead. That— at least— is something to look forward to.