By James Alan Fox, The Boston Globe

The turn of the calendar always brings news about how crime levels have trended over the previous year.  And like many cities around the country, Boston witnessed fewer crimes in 2011 than 2010, including a double-digit drop in homicide.

With crime rates at a 50-year low, this is a good time to re-examine our criminal justice policies, especially those measures implemented in a knee-jerk fashion when crime rates and higher levels of fear were peaking. We should begin in the areas that are a significant drain on the budget, such as our over-reliance on lengthy prison terms for juvenile murderers who, after decades of incarceration, no longer pose a danger to society. And this is hardly a left-wing, soft-on-crime idea, as even conservatives like Newt Gingrich have argued that we can’t afford to continue pouring vast sums of tax dollars into prison systems.

Many people are surprised to learn that Massachusetts is one of the toughest places in the world in punishing juvenile murderers. Defendants as young as 14, who are charged with murder are automatically tried as adults. If convicted, they are automatically sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. No other state has this harsh and rigid combination, and several states, including ultra-conservative Texas, have recently abolished life without parole sentences for juveniles.

Read the entire article here.