At least since Harvard President A. Lawrence Lowell chaired the committee that decided not to grant clemency to Niccolo Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, prisoners and Harvard men have had their differences of opinion. A couple of years ago, there was controversy over a book called Violence and the Brain, in which several university-affiliated psychiatrists described psychosurgical approaches to limiting violent behavior that their critics compared to the out-of-favor prefrontal lobotomy. This year, the controversy centered around William J. Curran, Lee Professor of Legal Medicine at the School of Public Health.
The controversy began when Curran did a $188,000 study for the Departments of Correction of the New England states. In his report summary, released in November, Curran suggested the establishment of a federal prison to which Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont would send their "special offenders" for a per capita charge, with possible expansion later to include other New England states. Curran's critics--exprisoners' groups, the American Friends Service Committee and Massachusetts assistant commissioner for drug rehabilitiation Matthew Dumont--charged that his definition of "special offender"--"incorrigible," "disruptive," "dangerous"--was so vague it was meaningless--or suitable for clamping down on politically active prisoners.
The critics also attacked Curran's discussion of two possible methods of treatment for violence: drug therapy and behavior modification programs, which they charged couldn't possibly be limited to their stated emphasis on positive rein-forcement under prison conditions.
Massachusetts Governor Francis W. Sargent announced almost at once that Massachusetts would not participate in the proposed new facility. Curran had never suggested that Massachusetts should, but Sargent seized the occasion anyway to announce that special offenders would be placed in smaller prison units with more individualized care and treatment.
When the six New England governors met in Boston in February, 100 sympathizers of the New England Prisoners Association picketed outside to oppose Curran's plan. The Governors Conference praised Curran, and referred his report it local officials for them to "review, evaluate and adopt" insofar as it seemed "applicable."