Finding Better Ways to Allocate Limited Public Safety Resources

The MassCJRC Journal

Massachusetts’s criminal justice reform legislation is arguably the most wide-ranging and comprehensive in the country, at least as far as progress in a single legislative session goes. However, unlike most states that have pursued comprehensive reform, our legislation was largely crafted without independent technical assistance from the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI). One of the key services JRI provides is estimating both the costs and the savings attached to reform legislation.

In the absence of an independent estimate, it is unclear how much money will be required to implement the reform bills Governor Baker signed in April.

The supplemental appropriation Governor Baker filed recently includes $33 million to implement the new laws through FY 2019. The Governor’s language specifies that these funds will support newly mandated programs in prisons and jails, new protocols for testing and tracking Sexual Assault Evidence Kits, expanded oversight of forensic laboratories, and new responsibilities at the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services, the Parole Board, the trial courts, and district attorneys’ offices.

While the Governor’s request does not include a detailed breakdown of how these funds would be allocated, through line items, the spending bill directs the largest share to the DOC ($10.7 million), followed by the Sheriff’s Association ($6.6 million) and the State Police Crime Laboratory ($6 million). EOPPS ($2.3 million), the DA’s Association ($1.4 million), the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services ($1.3 million), the Parole Board ($1.2 million), Probation ($1.1 million), and Community Corrections ($1.1 million) receive smaller shares.

So far, the Legislature has provided little indication of how it will approach funding implementation. The House did provide $3 million for residential reentry programs as a down payment (and an attempt to address the defunding of reentry programs over the past few years) in its FY 2019 budget. The Senate budget did not fund reentry, so it is now a matter of negotiation for the conference committee.

However, the Senate budget did include vital language (Section 131) creating a new commission to study spending by correctional agencies. These provisions are more extensive than the correctional expenditure language the Senate offered in last year’s budget, which was released on the heels of a MassINC report revealing stark disparities between rising correctional expenditures and falling correctional populations. While last year’s Senate language did not survive the conference committee, this year is different in two respects.

First, the language creating a commission does not restrict the ability of agencies to spend above their budget appropriations, as MassINC’s latest research shows, such a provision would represent a significant reduction in funding for most Sheriff’s departments.

Second, the legislative component of criminal justice reform is now complete. The only thing that we are lacking is an understanding of what it will mean in terms of costs and savings. Convening an independent commission would provide us with this essential information.

From young adult justice to criminal justice data infrastructure, the reform package included numerous commissions to study critical questions that remain unanswered. But there is no issue more fundamental to the whole concept of Justice Reinvestment than the proper allocation of limited public safety resources. Moving swiftly to establish an expenditure commission would surely be a positive step toward the successful implementation of the Legislature’s landmark criminal justice reform package.

– Ben Forman

Here in Massachusetts

A recent lawsuit hopes to spark action from the Legislature to tighten rules for telephone service in prisons.

A new pilot program in Middlesex County will help law enforcement, corrections officials, and health care-providers use a “variety of sources” to better identify people in crisis.

Duron Harmon and Devin McCourty of the New England Patriots speak from the heart on criminal justice reform at Walpole High School.

A delegation from Massachusetts visits Germany to look at how the country’s prison system deals with young offenders.

The Boston Globe Editorial Board says lawmakers should reject Governor Charlie Baker’s efforts to weaken the “compassionate release” measure in the sweeping criminal justice legislation he recently signed.

Governor Charlie Baker considers reinstating the death penalty.

Other States

With help from the Crime and Justice Institute, Oklahoma takes a major step in addressing the state’s prison crisis.

Building off the strength of progress made in 2014, Mississippi goes for another round of criminal justice reform.

Utah’s prison population has dropped 9% since bipartisan reform passed in 2015.

Connecticut becomes the first state in the country to house transgender inmates in a facility that matches the gender to which they identify.

In Washington

An editorial from the Herald applauds President Trump’s recent “Prison Reform Summit.”

Jeff Sessions and Jared Kushner go head to head over prison reform.

The House passes a criminal justice reform bill focused on reducing recidivism.

From the Media

The New York Times covers a case before the SJC weighing whether courts can use jail as a sanction for relapse.

Governing says it is time for criminal justice leaders to get out of the courtroom to take a look at the impact the system is having on the community.

Devin McCourty sits down with CommonWealth magazine to speak about criminal justice reform and discuss his platform for change.

WGBH and Chris Burrell of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting examines the Massachusetts bail system and the work of the Bail Fund.

From the Researchers

Writing for the Executive Session on Community Corrections, Anne Milgram looks at how Camden, NJ is integrating health and criminal justice data.

New research from Pew shows that states can safely raise their felony theft thresholds.

Vera find the number of people in US prisons continues to decline, although 10 states are still at all-time highs.

The Sentencing Project submits a report to the United Nations on racial disparities in the US criminal justice system.

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