This forum addressed how Massachusetts' policies around sentencing, re-entry and recidivism stack up against national trends and how the Commonwealth can foster a more effective criminal justice system by learning from best practices being implemented throughout the nation.
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 the forum—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.
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.
Paul S. Grogan, President & CEO,The Boston Foundation
Bruce Western, Professor of Sociology,
Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
Ben Forman, Research Director, MassINC
Mary Jo Meisner, Vice President for Communications, Community Relations and Public Affairs,
The Boston Foundation
David F. Capeless, District Attorney,Berkshire County and President, Massachusetts District Attorneys Association
Rahsaan Hall, Director, Racial Justice Program, ACLU of Massachusetts
Conan Harris, Deputy Director, Mayor's Office of Public Safety Initiatives, City of Boston
Michael Lawlor, Under Secretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning, State of Connecticut
Greg Torres, President, MassINC
Dr. Ana Yáñez-Correa, Program Officer for Criminal Justice, Public Welfare Foundation