Introducing the latest publication from MassINC and the Gateway Cities Innovation Institute
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  • Criminal justice reform: Business as usual is not an option

    Among the highlights of the bill championed by Hinds and sponsored by Sen. Will Brownsberger, D-Belmont, Senate chair of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, are repealing “ineffective mandatory minimum sentences for low level drug offenders,” reducing and eliminating overburdensome fees and fines, reforming the bail system, allowing for compassionate release for infirmed inmates, and reforms to the juvenile justice system, Hinds said.Hinds pointed to a what he called a “profound study” by MassINC, an independent think tank whose director of research, Ben Forman, presented at the conference later in the day. The study examined incarceration rates and their geographical distribution in the city of Boston.

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  • Black, Latino communities seek voice in criminal justice reform

    One report from the MassINC think tank found that cash bail tends to be set higher for black defendants than for white defendants.

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  • Is this the year Massachusetts will eliminate mandatory minimum sentences?

    Advocates for repeal say they are seeing more momentum and more political openness to the idea than ever before. But making changes will not be easy, with opposition from many of the state’s prosecutors. Democratic state senators have been leading the charge to end some mandatory minimums, but Democratic House leaders have been more reticent. Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, has been noncommittal.

    “We’re starting to see a shift in political opinion that reflects public opinion,” said Ben Forman, research director of MassINC, a think tank that supports criminal justice reform.

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  • Editorial: Cost of tough-on-crime policies do not add up

    Budgets, we’re told by politicians and policy-makers, reflect the priorities and values of the community.

    Want children educated? Fund education. Safe streets? Fund public safety. And so on.

    But lost in the discussion over our priorities and values is a question central to the efficacy of our government: Is money being spent in a way that achieves the desired results?

    It is in this light that we take note of a new study, “The Geography of Incarceration in a Gateway City,” prepared by MassINC and the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Reform Coalition.

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  • Report: High incarceration rates raise crime in Worcester neighborhoods

    WORCESTER – The idea that too many people are given prison sentences instead of treatment for addictions or mental ailments is nothing new.

    But a new study released recently by an independent Boston think tank urging criminal justice reform uses Worcester’s neighborhoods to support that theory, mapping in detail where offenders live and suggesting that crime in some areas might actually be driven by high rates of imprisonment.

    “You would think that locking people up who are creating disorder is always beneficial, but if you’re putting a lot of people away for nonviolent offenses, it reduces the stigma attached to going to prison and makes it less of a deterrent,” Ben Forman, research director at MassINC, said in announcing the results of the Sept. 25 report.

    Titled “The Geography of Incarceration in a Gateway City,” the 18-page report confirms what many would suspect: The bulk of people placed behind bars live in rougher neighborhoods. But by presenting the data alongside other neighborhood measures – voting records and school discipline, chiefly – it suggests that poor neighborhoods may be caught in a cycle of crime driven, as opposed to relieved by, incarceration of law-breakers.

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  • Report: High incarceration rates raise crime in Worcester neighborhoods

    “You would think that locking people up who are creating disorder is always beneficial, but if you’re putting a lot of people away for nonviolent offenses, it reduces the stigma attached to going to prison and makes it less of a deterrent,” Ben Forman, research director at MassINC, said in announcing the results of the Sept. 25 report.

    …In the study, MassInc noted that crime in Worcester is relatively low and socio-economic conditions are better than in many other Gateway Cities. Mr. Forman said high incarceration rates are “no doubt even more problematic” in cities that struggle more deeply with crime.

    In an opinion column, Mr. Forman wrote that “overuse” of incarceration exacerbates the long-term costs of the opiate crisis, because offering treatment in jail is less effective and more costly.

    The MassINC report juxtaposes a number of costs in its report. The cost to incarcerate residents from the Main Middle neighborhood in 2013, $1.7 million, eclipsed the city’s $1.6 million economic development budget that year, it noted; the state spent twice as much incarcerating Union Hill residents that year ($1.9 million) as it gave to the city for youth violence prevention.

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  • Ben Forman: Incarceration overuse can undermine state’s Gateway Cities

    BOSTON — Fear often trumps levelheaded reasoning when it comes to criminal justice policy in Massachusetts. With audience-hungry news broadcasts constantly fanning the flames, counterproductive laws have accumulated like weeds on a long neglected lot. This has repercussions for everyone, but the pain is especially sharp in Gateway Cities. If these communities are going to provide solid pathways to the American dream in a challenging economy, we must confront this reality.

    A new report from the nonpartisan think-tank MassINC demonstrates the extent to which the overuse of incarceration hurts Gateway Cities by mapping the Worcester County Sheriff’s intake data: On some Worcester streets, admissions to correctional facilities come from home after home; a downtown Worcester neighborhood lost one out of every 10 young men to incarceration between 2009 and 2015; within the span of a single year, another neighborhood saw 350 admissions to the county’s correctional facilities.

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  • Prison pipeline can drain whole city

    This week, however, we were reminded by a MassInc report on the city that economic development must be intractably linked to social development, or the former will be harder to maintain.

    According to the report, “The Geography of Incarceration in a Gateway City,” high rates of incarceration can have a chilling impact on community and economic development in cities like Worcester.

    In addition to creating a climate for increased crime, high incarceration rates can lead to low school performance, behavioral problems among children, and long-term political and civil disengagement, the report noted.

    Meanwhile, communities with high incarceration rates generally nurture high levels of poverty, unemployment and racial segregation, according to the report.

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  • EDITORIAL: Cut the waste before enacting new tax schemes

    As for efficiencies, one likely candidate appears to be the state’s correctional system, where a 12 percent drop in the inmate population since 2011 hasn’t been offset with a similar decrease in spending. Rather, it’s increased 18 percent over the same period. Those contradictory figures were the subject of a forum earlier in the week by MassINC and the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Reform Coalition.

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  • Aim prison budgets at rehabilitation

    THERE IS A LOT of talk in Massachusetts about moving away from the misguided “tough-on-crime” policies of the 1990s and instead embracing a more rehabilitative approach to criminal justice. But as an important new study set for release Monday demonstrates, policy makers aren’t living up to the second part of the bargain.

    The report, from the MassINC think tank, shows that even as the state’s average daily prison population declined by 12 percent over the last five years, corrections spending soared by 18 percent. Read More

  • Report: Massachusetts spending more on corrections, despite declining prison population

    The MassINC think tank, in a new report, criticized state government for increasing spending on corrections even as the inmate population has declined.

    The report found that most of the spending has been on hiring staff and raising salaries, not on programming to benefit inmates and reduce recidivism.

    The MassINC report also highlights disparate spending levels between counties.

    “(Spending has) gone up considerably when the population is going down at a time of very tight state budgets,” said Ben Forman, research director at MassINC. “The question we ask is are those additional dollars going to provide better services to reduce recidivism…. The data suggest they hadn’t, which is troubling.”

    MassINC is pushing for reforms to the state’s correctional system that focus on increasing programs and services for inmates and implementing less harsh sentencing and incarceration practices. It plans to release the research at a summit on criminal justice reform on Monday.

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  • SJC Chief Gants And U.S. Rep. Clark Say End Mandatory Minimum Sentences

    As the Trump administration revives a tough-on-crime strategy, Beacon Hill continues its debate on rethinking how best to treat those convicted of crimes. That debate has put the spotlight on the usually subdued leader of the judicial branch, Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants.

    Gants renewed his call for the end of mandatory minimum sentences Monday, saying the cost of incarcerating so many members of society is untenable for the Commonwealth.

    “Mandatory minimum sentencing is a failed experiment that must end. And it must end for all crimes, except the crimes of murder and repeated OUI offenses, not just for drug crimes,” Gants said at a criminal justice summit hosted by MassINC.

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  • Mass. Spending On Incarceration Is Up 18 Percent, Though The Inmate Population Is Down 12 Percent

    The report comes from the nonpartisan think tank MassINC, which advocates for criminal justice reform measures.

    Its authors write that, over the five years, spending “associated with recidivism reduction did not increase significantly, and these services continue to represent a small fraction of total correctional expenditure.”

    “The savings if we’d held the spending growth to inflation would have been $72 million,” co-author Michael Widmer, former president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, told WBUR’s Newscast Unit. “That $72 million could be used dearly elsewhere, including on programs to reduce recidivism.”

    The report follows a survey, from the MassINC Polling Group, that found most Massachusetts voters are concerned about the effects of incarceration. Fifty-three percent of poll respondents said they think that when inmates get out of prison, they are “more likely to commit new crime because they’ve been hardened by their prison experience.”

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  • Report: Spending soars while prison population shrinks

    Spending on state and county correctional facilities grew over the past five years despite a significant decrease in the prison population, according to a new report from a local think tank.

    The report found that the spending increase was focused on raises and new hires for correctional officers, and not on programs for the prisoners, according to MassINC. Their research, which they called “the most detailed report on state correctional expenditure,” is being presented Monday at the organization’s Massachusetts Criminal Justice Reform Coalition Summit.

  • Report: fewer inmates, higher costs

    BOSTON — As the number of people incarcerated in Massachusetts state or county facilities declined since fiscal year 2011, state spending on correctional facilities climbed by about 18 percent, according to a report released Monday.

    Since fiscal 2011 — the highwater mark for the state’s incarcerated population — the average daily number of people incarcerated in state prisons and jails has declined by about 12 percent from 23,850 to 20,961 but state spending for the Department of Correction and the 14 county sheriffs’ offices increased by $181 million to $1.2 billion.

    The report’s findings were the focus of a summit hosted by MassINC and the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Reform Coalition on Monday morning to examine how the state could spend savings associated with a declining inmate population on ancillary programs like drug rehabilitation and mental health counseling to improve the broader criminal justice system.

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  • State prison spending soars despite falling population

    The state’s inmate population has declined in recent years, but Massachusetts is still spending more money to operate jails and prisons, specifically to pay corrections staff, according to an independent criminal justice report that questions the state’s spending priorities.

    Spending for the Department of Correction and the 14 county sheriffs’ offices outpaced inflation and rose 18 percent from 2011 to 2016, reaching $1.2 billion, according to the report by the Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth, or MassINC, a nonpartisan think tank.

    The prison population, which was at its peak in 2011, declined by 3,000 inmates, or 12 percent, in those same years, according to the report.

    The report, which is slated to be presented Monday morning at a Criminal Justice Reform Coalition Policy Summit, raises questions about the state’s spending priorities at a time when legislators and policy makers have proposed reforms to the state’s criminal justice system and the approach to inmates. Scheduled speakers at the summit include Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants and US Representative Katherine Clark, Democrat of Melrose.

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  • Poll says state’s citizens trust judges (Editorial)

    A popular perception these days is that the public does not trust judges they see as detached, unrealistic and often too soft on criminals.

    According to a new poll, that’s not true in Massachusetts. Voters surveyed showed support for reforms to the state’s criminal justice system, including giving judges more discretion in sentencing and providing job training and education for inmates.

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  • Poll: Voters want more education for inmates, favor judicial discretion in sentencing

    Massachusetts voters support reforms to the state’s criminal justice system, including giving judges more discretion in sentencing, providing job training and education for inmates, and sealing criminal records sooner, according to a poll released by the MassINC Polling Group on Thursday.

    The polling group is affiliated with the MassINC think tank, which supports criminal justice reform.

    “Massachusetts voters are ready to embrace reform throughout the system,” said Steve Koczela, president of the MassINC Polling Group. “They support changing practices in everything from sentencing to what happens in prison to policies for what happens after release.”

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  • New poll suggests Mass. voters support criminal justice reform

    Massachusetts voters support aggressive reforms to the state criminal justice system, according to a poll conducted by MassINC, a bipartisan policy think tank.

    The poll found that the plurality of respondents, 46 percent, believe judges should have more discretion in sentencing convicted offenders, rather than requiring them to sentence some offenders to a minimum period of time.

    Criminal justice is a hot topic this year on Beacon Hill, where lawmakers have filed a number of bills to reform the system. Earlier this year lawmakers saw the results of a study the state commissioned on how to reform the system.

    More than half of people polled said they believe incarceration does more harm than good, according to the results, which are set to be discussed Monday at a MassINC forum.

  • Mandatory sentences need reform, ex-cons and officials say

    The National Day of Empathy, held in conjunction with MassInc. and #Cut50, was designed to generate empathy on a massive scale for millions of Americans impacted by the criminal justice system…Those gathered at the Statehouse highlighted the needs and shared the perspective of Americans impacted by the current justice system — with speakers ranging from incarcerated individuals working to transform themselves to people with criminal records desperately seeking a second chance.

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  • Senators push criminal justice reform

    “The criminal justice system, from the front end to the back end . . . is broken, it’s deeply broken,” said Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, one of about a dozen senators who have filed criminal justice reform bills this session.

    The senators characterized the reforms as a matter of inequality because people of color and low-income residents are disproportionately incarcerated. It is also a financial imperative, they said, because it is expensive to keep people behind bars.

    A 2016 report by MassINC, a nonpartisan think tank, found that Roxbury residents are incarcerated at twice the rate of Boston residents as a whole. It also found that more was spent incarcerating residents of the Codman Square neighborhood in Dorchester in 2013 than was spent on grants for gang prevention for the entire state of Massachusetts.

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  • A tipping point for criminal justice reform

    MARK TWAIN made famous the adage that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.

    Over the years, piles of reform proposals on an array of issues have been decided by statistical analyses that could be colored dozens of different ways. But when statistics show that in some parts of the city, residents from nearly every other home on some streets are ending up in jail, the need for wholesale change is irrefutable.

  • Neighborhoods Hit Disproportionately By Incarceration

    Benjamin Forman is the research director for the policy group MassINC, which was a co-author of the report. He acknowledged there’s a high crime rate in these communities.

     

    “But at some point, sending more folks off to prison is actually not the best answer, and the research is pretty clear about why,” Forman said. If a lot of people on your block are incarcerated, he said, going to prison starts to seem normal. “In neighborhoods where you have a lot of gang activity and drug trade, if you’re sending another youth off to prison, you’re just leading to the recruitment of another youth.” Read more…

     

  • Report: High Incarceration Rates Harm Boston’s Communities Of Color

    Ben Forman, of MassINC, said some neighborhoods cross a threshold where incarceration becomes more harmful than helpful.
    “After 30 years of get-tough-on-crime policies, certain neighborhoods in the city of Boston have mass incarceration where almost every other house has a person lost to incarceration,” he said. “That really affects the fabric of the community.” Read more…
  • Incarceration’s toll falls unevenly in Boston

    “In the communities of color in our city, nearly every other home, at least every other street has been affected by incarceration,” said Ben Forman, the research director at the independent think tank MassINC and an author of the report. “When you have so many families all at once affected by incarceration, that neighborhood cannot be healthy.” Read more…

  • Sheriffs Michael Ashe, Frank Cousins laud opioid bill at MassINC criminal justice conference

    BOSTON — In remarks at a conference on criminal justice reform at UMass Boston Friday, two retiring Massachusetts sheriffs with a combined 62 years of experience praised a state law passed this week to fight opioid addiction.

    “As you look at the opiate crisis, it’s a medical issue, it’s a public health issue. It’s not a criminal justice issue, where we’re putting people who are obviously addicted, compounding it by putting the criminal justice system on their backs,” said Hampden County Sheriff Michael Ashe. “It’s quite a cross.”

    Ashe, who has been sheriff since 1974, and Essex County Sheriff Frank Cousins, who has been sheriff since 1996, were the keynote speakers at the annual conference, organized by Boston-based policy group MassINC. The sheriffs discussed the importance of addressing drug addiction and other needs that inmates have before they can successfully return to society.

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  • Mass. probation chief: State ‘over-criminalizing people’

    BOSTON — Responsible for monitoring nearly 90,000 individuals, the Bay State’s probation chief recently warned against overly strict supervision, saying he wants to focus on cases with the highest risk of failure.

    “The system’s sort of like a machine — it pulls you in, and we monitor your behavior, and we document every time you’re late,” Probation Commissioner Ed Dolan said during a recent panel discussion. “There’s a danger of sort of over-criminalizing people.”

    Probation officers keep tabs on defendants ahead of their trial and after conviction at the order of a judge — sometimes tracking their location around the clock.

    Begun in 2001 and expanded since then, the electronic monitoring of probationers now includes 2,391 offenders whose locations are tracked via satellite and 479 who wear bracelets reporting whether they are at home. Dolan said there is too much electronic monitoring.

    “In many cases, we’re over-conditioning people, over-supervising,” Dolan said at the panel organized by the think tank MassINC. “I have 3,000 people on GPS today. I really don’t think 3,000 people need to be on GPS today. I think we’re sort of over-using that resource in a lot of ways.”

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  • Mass. panel explores ways to reduce young repeat offenders

    BOSTON (WWLP) – Young adults are more likely to end up in a Massachusetts prison, and return again after they have been released.

    A panel of speakers gathered at the State House Tuesday to discuss new approaches to help young, repeat offenders. State Senator William Brownsberger, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said while incarceration rates have dipped slightly in Massachusetts, problems still exist in the criminal justice system.

    “Our incarceration rates are still roughly five times, five times what they were in Massachusetts forty years ago,” said Senator Brownsberger (D-Belmont).

    The independent think tank MassINC believes judges, prosecutors, correctional officers and lawmakers should consider why some young adults, ages 18-24, end up in jail time and time again. It may involve their environment growing up.

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  • Research On Maturing Brains Leads To Attempts To Reduce Youth Recidivism

    According to a report the think tank MassINC published in December, young adults under 24 years old are more likely to go to Massachusetts prisons than any other group—and they end up back there the fastest.

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  • Clive McFarlane: Schools are ripe for criminal justice reforms

    Another area of progress on the social justice front was noted by MassINC in a policy brief published earlier this month. According to the brief, juvenile commitments to Department of Youth Services facilities fell by 72 percent from 2004 to 2013.

    Researchers attributed the change in part to the juvenile courts and DYS eschewing court involvement in favor of “developmentally appropriate responses to problematic behavior among adolescents.” MassINC noted in particular a diversion program being used by Worcester Juvenile Court Judge Carol Erskine and her colleagues across the state.

    Between 2004 and 2013, the program, Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, used a range of diversion programs and other services to reduce the number of young people awaiting trial in detention by more than 60 percent, according to the MassINC brief.

    Benjamin Forman, one of the MassINC researchers, said the developmentally appropriate practices adopted by the juvenile court and DYS “have likely played a direct role in reducing arrests and incarcerations,” which fell by 37 percent between 2004 to 2013.

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