Checking the pulse on criminal justice reform

The MassCJRC Journal

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 One after another last week the Sentencing Commission held a public hearing to gather input on ideas discussed in a closed session over the past year, the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) working group met to review the latest CSG analysis, and Justice Gants delivered his third state of the judiciary address. This burst of activity was a chance to hear the unsteady heartbeat of criminal justice reform in Massachusetts. Opportunity sits on the horizon it thumps, but concerted effort is still needed to build support for comprehensive change.

From police contact to reentry, criminologists have demonstrated evidence-based policy and practice to lessen recidivism, reduce racial disparities, save taxpayers unnecessary cost, and ameliorate disparate impact on high incarceration-rate communities. Data uncovered through the JRI process are revealing where such change is required in Massachusetts.

The Council on State Governments Justice Reinvestment working group

The Council on State Governments Justice Reinvestment working group

For instance, the CSG data presented last week indicate that nearly 40 percent of DOC inmates who could benefit from treatment to address violent behavior are released without receiving the necessary services. Likewise, more than one-quarter of sex offenders return to the community without evidence-based treatment, either because they were on a waitlist to get the therapy or the facility where they were held did not offer it. Couple with lack of rehabilitative services with figures showing over one-third of high-risk DOC offenders return to the community with no supervision, and it is clear that current practice is a cocktail for repeat offending and additional victimization.

But the problem is much bigger than preparing people to return safely from incarceration. CSG analysts discovered that more than one-third of offenders incarcerated in HOCs—about 3,300 individuals each year—are sent to these correctional facilities for less than three months. (This figure squares with data we recently published  showing that most individuals who might benefit from enhanced probation through community corrections get a prison stay instead.) A short “dip” in prison gives individuals a hefty dose of incarceration’s criminogenic risk, and few connections to the services and supports needed to responsively address criminogenic needs.

Justice Gants called the JRI process a “generational” opening to improve the Commonwealth’s criminal justice system. First and foremost, seizing the moment means building consensus that we can use data like these to make us smarter, safer, and better at every stage of our justice system.

-Ben Forman 


The US Sentencing Commission reports on those serving long drug sentences who sought and received retroactive release, including 248 individuals from Massachusetts.


Members from all three branches of state government come together to review CSG research.

SJC Chief Justice Ralph Gants announces a new effort to examine racial disparities at the State of the Judiciary.

The SJC places limits on the use of long-term solitary confinement.

The National Association of Professional Background Screeners comments on proposed CORI changes.

Other States

Washington DC adopts the sweeping changes for juveniles proposed by Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie through the Comprehensive Youth Justice Amendment Act of 2016 which includes 17 major changes to court procedures and conditions of refinement.

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal reflects on the progress the state has made over the past 5 years through a reform task force that led to accountability courts, improvements to the juvenile justice system, and re-entry programs. 

In the Media

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution runs a special report on what it’s like to have a parent in prison.

The Marshall Project compares the juvenile justice system in the US and Germany, where inmates are considered juvenile until age 21 and there’s talk of raising the age to 24. Then they ask if 25 should be the new 18.

MSNBC looks at the impact of mass incarceration in a city neighborhood.

The New Yorker follows a police officer’s quest to reverse a wrongful conviction.

The Marshall Project checks in on efforts around the country to back the election of reform-minded DAs.

Read the latest from our Justice Reinvestment Policy Brief Series

Justice Reinvestment At-A-Glance Community Corrections: Community Corrections

This Justice Reinvestment At-a-Glance report examines community corrections. Community corrections is an enhanced form of probation. Instead of incarceration, individuals are sentenced to intensive services and supervision in the community. The data presented here show that-among individuals in Massachusetts convicted for offenses where community corrections may be appropriate-very few receive this alternative to incarceration. Learn More

2Harnessing the Power of Data for Justice Reinvestment 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


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

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


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