FY21 budget offers a beacon for Justice Reinvestment

The Gateway Cities Journal

When Beacon Hill delivered the FY20 budget, we heaped qualified praise on lawmakers for making incremental progress reducing the state’s prison population and redirecting resources to communities struggling with high rates of incarceration. The FY21 budget, which passed both branches last week, goes even further by creating a true “Justice Reinvestment” fund and capitalizing it with a $15 million appropriation.

From job training and transitional employment to dropout prevention and housing stabilization, a wide range of community-based programs are eligible for these resources. This flexibility gives Gateway Cities the ability to tailor investments to their needs. While $15 million is a modest start, communities thinking holistically about how they work to improve public safety by providing alternatives to incarceration and stronger reentry supports have several pots of funds they can now tap.

Unlike in the past, when dollars directed to a new line item often offset others funding similar services, this $15 million is entirely additive. In recent budgets, the state has invested in a series of programs that provide approximately $20 million for youth violence prevention and $10 million for reentry services. This is a night and day difference from just a few years ago, when there was very little funding for community-based programs proven to reduce crime and recidivism. And rather than slashing programs critical to community safety in a recession when we need them most, budget makers preserved or increased these line items this year.

In addition to the approximately $45 million now available through the reinvestment fund, youth violence prevention, and reentry grants, Gateway Cities can leverage the $25 million available to Community Correction Centers. Last year, the legislature loosened up restrictions to increase access to the high-quality services available through these facilities, which are located in Gateway Cities throughout the state.

Efforts by many individuals made this progress possible, but Rep. Mary Keefe’s leadership stands out.  She has worked tirelessly, repeatedly filing Justice Reinvestment legislation session after session. Her community is poised to benefit. Several years ago, the Worcester Public Health Commission formed a reentry taskforce. The group brings together services providers and civic leaders to pinpoint needs and devise strategies to serve them. This model is one that all Gateway Cities should replicate.

In the past, most Gateway City leaders didn’t want to talk about incarceration and its ill effects. Sensitive to decades of negative media portrayals, they were eager to burnish the images of their cities; taking on incarceration problems with a robust and highly visible campaign wasn’t likely to help in that regard. Times have changed. Actual resources are available for cities to put to work. And there is now widespread recognition that we can do criminal justice better and more equitably in our Commonwealth. As in so many areas, the state’s success now hinges on Gateway City leadership and innovation.

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