Massachusetts digs in on justice-reinvestment

The MassCJRC Journal

Massachusetts digs in on justice-reinvestment

Massachusetts state leaders have launched a data-driven “justice reinvestment” approach to develop a policy package for the 2017 legislative session that curbs corrections spending and shifts resources into strategies to reduce recidivism and increase public safety.

Twenty-four other states have carried out this data-driven approach, with intensive technical assistance from The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center in partnership with the U.S Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance and The Pew Charitable Trusts. States using a justice reinvestment approach have seen a variety of outcomes, including reductions in prison populations, reallocation of millions of dollars into community-based behavioral health treatment, and declines in probation and parole revocations.

In Massachusetts, state leaders are deeply involved in the justice reinvestment effort. Governor Charlie Baker, Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, Chief Justice Ralph Gants, Senate President Stan Rosenberg, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo all serve on the project’s steering committee. A 25-member working group provides additional project support and guidance and includes designees from all three branches of government as well as state and local criminal justice stakeholders.

The steering committee has determined that the initial scope of Massachusetts’s justice reinvestment project will include investigating the drivers of incarceration, identifying recidivism trends across the system, and assessing the effectiveness of community supervision.

At the first working group meeting, held on January 12 at the Statehouse, CSG Justice Center staff provided some initial findings about the state’s criminal justice system, including:

  • The total incarcerated population has decreased 12 percent over the last decade, driven by a reduction in the county-operated houses of corrections population. The prison population, by contrast, increased 3 percent during the same time period.
  • Few measures of recidivism for people in the criminal justice system are routinely calculated and reported in Massachusetts.
  • People on probation and parole supervision account for three-quarters (about 70,000 people) of those who are under some form of correctional supervision in the state.
  • 40 percent of people incarcerated in state prison do not receive supervision when they return to their communities upon release.

CSG Justice Center staff have begun analyzing hundreds of thousands of data records made available by various state agencies, including the Trial Courts, the Office of the Commissioner of Probation, the Department of Corrections, and the Parole Board. Analyses are likely to cover such topics as demographics and characteristics of incarcerated populations, bail and pretrial practices, sentencing policies, policies related to criminal justice fines and fees, and how and when people involved with the criminal justice system who have behavioral health disorders are connected to treatment. During future working group meetings, CSG Justice Center staff will deliver findings related to these and other aspects of Massachusetts’s criminal justice system.

In the fall of this year, the steering committee and working group will focus on developing a data-driven policy framework that can serve as the basis for legislation.

The next working group meeting is scheduled for April 12. The first working group presentation, an overview publication, and other materials can be found on the CSG Justice Center’s Massachusetts webpage.

– Council on State Governments



WBUR covers CSG’s first presentation. CommonWealth (here) and the Boston Globe also provide coverage (and here).

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