BOSTON – Before an overflow crowd of more than 300, the Boston Foundation hosted a forum Wednesday morning, with nonpartisan public policy think tank Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth, titled “Re-entry, Recidivism, and Reform: How Massachusetts Compares to Other States.”
“It was imperative that we take on this topic in order to push the conversation forward and ensure that leaders and stakeholders in our communities are pushing for solutions to recidivism, as well as the creation of tools to help offenders transition appropriately back to the community as productive members of society,” said Paul S. Grogan, President and CEO of the Boston Foundation.
The forum included data presentations by Ben Forman, Research Director, MassINC, and Bruce Western, Professor of Sociology, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.
Forman, citing a new MassINC study, titled, “Reducing Recidivism in Massachusetts with a Comprehensive Reentry Strategy,” reported that repeat offenders make up more than two-thirds of defendants committed to state and county prisons in Massachusetts each year. Further, the Commonwealth spends nearly $500 million annually re-incarcerating repeat offenders. With about one-third sent back to prison for violent felony offenses, the report estimates recidivists are responsible for 3,000 violent crimes annually.
This new analysis—released during Wednesday’s forum at a Boston Foundation—comes on the heels of the first set of findings issued by the Council on State Governments (CSG). Last year Massachusetts entered a partnership with CSG to undertake a comprehensive review of the state’s criminal justice system. At a State House presentation two weeks ago, CSG analysts highlighted the large number of inmates (40 percent of all releases) returning from state prisons to the community without supervision from a probation or parole officer.
MassINC’s report adds to this finding by showing that offenders classified as the highest-risk to commit new crimes by the Department of Correction are the least likely to receive supervision. Supervision is deemed most effective when provided to high-risk offenders; supervising low-risk individuals may actually increase their likelihood of returning to prison.
Greg Torres, president of MassINC, expressed frustration with this pattern. “We’ve known how to provide supervision effectively for some time and most states have been able to make the fixes necessary. Despite numerous reports and commissions urging change in Massachusetts over the past decade, the Commonwealth has been slow to follow suit,” Torres said.
Among his findings, Western reported that a study of freed offenders found that work release programs promoted continuity of employment after incarceration, and allowed them to build bank savings accounts, reducing the subjects’ likelihood of reoffending. Western also reported that common denominators among successful offenders – those who did not reoffend and were not reincarcerated – included 85.4 percent of them having photo IDs by the end of their first week out of prison, and 91 percent quickly enrolling in a healthcare plan through MassHealth.
During a panel discussion, following Forman’s and Western’s presentations, Forman, Rashaan Hall, Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts’ Racial Justice Program, Conan Harris, Deputy Director of Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s Office of Public Safety Initiatives, Michael Lawlor, Under Secretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning for the State of Connecticut, and Dr. Ana Yáñez-Correa, Program Officer for Criminal Justice, Public Welfare Foundation, offered insights on the dangers of sentencing inequity and the benefits of comprehensive post-incarceration offender supervision.
The forum was live-streamed and a complete video of the forum should be available by Wednesday evening at http://www.tbf.org/videos/2016/january/criminal-justice-forum.
The Boston Foundation, Greater Boston’s community foundation, is one of the largest community foundations in the nation, with net assets of some $1 billion. In 2015, the Foundation and its donors made more than $110 million in grants to nonprofit organizations and received gifts of approximately $120 million. In celebration of its centennial in 2015, the Boston Foundation launched the Campaign for Boston to strengthen the Permanent Fund for Boston, Greater Boston’s only endowment fund supporting organizations focused on the most pressing needs of Greater Boston. The Foundation is proud to be a partner in philanthropy, with nearly 1,000 separate charitable funds established by donors either for the general benefit of the community or for special purposes.
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