Unpacking the story behind the data

The MassCJRC Journal

Unpacking the story behind the data

The Council on State Governments Justice Reinvestment working group assembled on Tuesday for their second formal meeting. CSG presented new data focused largely on sentencing. The conversation centered heavily around recidivism, with the CSG analysts providing figures that show repeat offenders represent three-quarters of new convictions in Massachusetts, a finding consistent with previous MassINC research. To learn more about why individuals cycle in and out of our corrections system, CSG analysts wanted to hear directly from working group members on the frontlines.

The Council on State Governments Justice Reinvestment working group assembled on Tuesday for their second formal meeting.

The Council on State Governments Justice Reinvestment working group assembled on Tuesday for their second formal meeting.

Many pinpointed the large number of offenders entering prisons for operating with a suspended license-819 in FY 2013, the most recent year sentencing data are available. Some felt these violators pose a real danger to the community, pointing to a young woman killed in 2014 by a man driving with a suspended license. Others argued that the recent legislation ending the automatic license suspension given to anyone convicted of a drug crime would go a long way toward addressing this problem.

Drilling into the data and hearing about the process was helpful. Criminal justice data rarely tell the whole story. It’s critical to get out and hear from those in the agencies, as well as individuals on the receiving end. While researching our latest policy brief on substance abuse and the corrections system, we spent a lot of time in the community and saw firsthand the issue presented by license suspensions.

One of the offenders we interviewed was on probation for driving with a suspended license when he was arrested again for driving with a suspended license. The inmate said he could never afford the fines and fees to legally restore his driving privileges. In the short video below, you can listen to his story, along with many others. We hope that by capturing our interviews and sharing them with our audience, our research becomes richer and more impactful for policymakers.

 – Ben Forman

Watch Combating A Crisis, MassINC’s latest video

This video follows the creation of the Essex County 28-day detox unit. The unit is filling a large treatment void in the community.  In the first 90 days, 132 people have been admitted to the facility. The vast majority successfully completed the 28 days and went on to residential treatment or intensive outpatient programs.  


Beyond the Wall, a film following inmates returning from Middlesex County House of Correction screened at our Third Annual Criminal Justice Policy Summit, premieres at the Boston Independent Film Festival on May 1st. 

The Senate passes legislation allowing for the use of underutilized Community Corrections Centers for pretrial services and ending license suspensions for acts of vandalism. 

State House News reports on the CSG working group meeting. 

Thomas Turco, a veteran probation officer, is named Commissioner of the Department of Correction.

Probation is working to make the criminal record sealing process faster for those eligible.

The Criminal Justice Policy Coalition organizes against a new eastern Massachusetts women’s correctional facility.

In the States 

Maryland passes a bipartisan comprehensive Justice Reinvestment Act.

The Alaska Senate passed a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill Saturday aimed at reducing the state’s prison population by reforming bail, sentencing and pretrial supervision.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon signs an executive order to “Ban the Box” for state job applications.

Albany, NY and other cities are emulating Seattle’s LEAD program, and using Medicaid to steer people away from jails and into services that offer housing, job training and treatment.

The New Orleans Housing Authority helps individuals with criminal convictions rejoin families.

The MacArthur Foundation announces nearly $25 million in grants to reduce jail populations and address racial and ethnic disparities; 11 jurisdictions will receive grants between $1.5M and $3.5M over two years, and nine jurisdictions will be given $150,000.

In the Media

60 Minutes reports on lessons from the German prison system.

Protesters criticize former President Bill Clinton’s record on criminal justice at a campaign event. The New York Times reports that prison rates were rising years by the 1994 law.

A Huffington Post blog by Robert Ashford discusses the need to understand the link between behavioral health and substance abuse disorders and the criminal justice system, and how breaking out of “silos” is key to meaningful change.

The White House launches the Fair Chance Business Pledge for private companies; Starbucks, Google, and Uber are just a few of the many pledging to make access to private sector jobs easier for those with criminal records. 

From the Researchers 

Susan Koski and Kathleen Bantley publish research indicating a need for early stage intervention for women diagnosed with mental illness and substance abuse and providing direction for policymakers in altering re-entry program goals from a gender-responsive approach.

The Robina Institute hosts a forum looking at the impact of fines and fees on probationers.

MassINC releases the last two reports in its Justice Reinvestment Policy Brief Series, exploring an evidence-based response to substance abuse and harnessing data for justice reinvestment.

 Read the latest from our Justice Reinvestment Policy Brief Series:


Harnessing the Power of Data for Justice Reinvestment in Massachusetts2

Solutions to better treat and manage substance abuse are paramount to an effective Justice Reinvestment strategy. Too many residents suffering from substance use disorder continue to enter the criminal justice system, which struggles to help these individuals recover from a life-threatening disease. For many offenders, un- or undertreated substance abuse aggravates anti-social behavior and lengthens criminal careers. The resulting cycle of recidivism creates significant costs for communities and places a significant strain on public resources. Learn More

1Mounting an Evidence-Based Criminal Justice Response to Substance Abuse and Drug Offending in Massachusetts.

Data are increasingly the lifeblood of an effective criminal justice system. Modern technology allows agencies to collect and exchange high-quality, actionable information. These data help frontline workers make informed decisions that reduce risk. And they provide managers and policymakers with vital information for the optimal allocation of resources. Learn More

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