Ben Forman Testifies On Criminal Justice Reform

Testimony Given Before the Massachusetts Sentencing Commission

MassINC Research Director Ben Forman testifies on Criminal Justice Reform before the Massachusetts Sentencing Commission at the State House. What follows below is a copy of his written testimony.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015.

Chair Lu and members of the Commission, I thank you for the opportunity to testify this morning on behalf of MassINC and the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Reform Coalition. As you know, the Coalition views the reestablishment of the state’s Sentencing Commission as a crucial first step toward comprehensive criminal justice reform. The Commission is uniquely positioned to examine the data and draw attention to opportunities to allocate our justice system’s resources more cost-effectively to increase public safety. The Sentencing Commission is also an important bulwark to ensure that our system administers justice fairly and free from racial and ethnic bias.

MassINC Research Director Ben FormanTestifies before Massachusetts Sentencing Commission

MassINC Research Director Ben Forman testifies before the Massachusetts Sentencing Commission

The excellent data the Sentencing Commission has provided over the years have been invaluable to us. Using your numbers, we found that in 2011, nearly two-thirds of drug offenders and almost 60 percent of non-drug offenders received sentences that made them either ineligible for parole or gave them very limited incentive to attain it. Your most recent figures show that the number of drug offenders without incentive to parole has climbed even higher, from two-thirds in 2011 to three-quarters in 2013, while the number of nondrug offenders without an incentive or the ability to earn parole still hovers around 60 percent.

The Commission has always seen this sentencing pattern as problematic. It is our hope that in issuing new recommendations and guidelines we can finally resolve this issue so that Massachusetts is no longer one of the lowest performing states, as it pertains to supervising offenders upon return to the community.

In addition to the problem of unsupervised released, MassINC research has drawn attention to the increase in time served in Massachusetts. Longer prison stays have clearly cut into resources available for treatment and rehabilitative programs. As a result, most offenders who returned to the community reoffend, creating more victims and more costs. Our hope is that the Commission will be able to pinpoint the sentencing patterns that have led to longer prison stays, giving us a roadmap for bringing the number of inmates down and reducing recidivism by reinvesting our corrections resources in rehabilitative programming, treatment, and reentry services.

Lastly, we want to issue a call to the Commission to play a leading role in improving the state’s criminal justice data infrastructure. It is now nearly 2016 and the most current sentencing data available to us are from 2013. With today’s database technology, researchers and policymakers should have something much closer to real-time data. The Commission also needs to work forcefully with corrections agencies to capture data on length of stay. It is simply impossible for the Commission to fulfill its mandate for monitoring the allocation of resources and ensuring fairness if it does not know how long individuals actually remain incarcerated. Lastly, we need more data collected consistently on race and ethnicity, female offenders, and young adults in the corrections system. Leading researchers are increasingly calling for more attention to these populations and we have a very limited understanding of their trajectories in our state.

We appreciate that all of the above presents challenges. If MassINC can be of assistance in any way, please do not hesitate to call upon us. Thank you again for the opportunity to testify today and for your service to the Commonwealth.

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