From Cell to Street

A Plan to Supervise Inmates After Release

Published Date : January 1, 2002
Author(s) : Anne Morrison Piehl
Sponsors :Gardiner Howland Shaw Foundation

This report begins and ends with a concern for the public safety of hardworking, law-abiding citizens of the Commonwealth. Our citizens deserve safe neighborhoods where their children can play on the streets, businesses can thrive, the elderly can walk without fear, and neighbors can congregate at night on their front porches. In recent years, much has been done in Massachusetts to improve the safety of our communities, through initiatives such as community policing and sentencing reforms. Yet a critical weakness in the criminal justice system remains: the failure to adequately supervise prisoners released from prison.

Reasonable people can disagree about priorities within public safety, but all must take into account the following five facts:

• 97 percent of all people sent to prison are eventually released into the community;

• In Massachusetts, 20,000 prisoners are released each year, an increase of 24 percent from 10 years earlier;

• Nationally, 63 percent of offenders released from prison are rearrested for a felony crime or serious misdemeanor within 3 years;

• Compared to many other states, Massachusetts supervises fewer prisoners after release from prison, with many offenders receiving no supervision;

• Many of the most dangerous prisoners in Massachusetts are unsupervised after their release from prison. Of the 2,308 inmates released from maximum and medium security prison in 1999, more than half were released directly to the street at the end of their sentence. (Some may have had supervision under the Probation Department, but how many is unknown because no agency collects such data.)

These facts raise serious concerns about the public’s safety. Foremost among these is the adequacy of current approaches to post-incarceration supervision. There is no reason why every person who leaves prison, especially violent offenders, should not be supervised for some period of time. However, before reforming policy, we must first ask: What happens today when an inmate is released from prison into the community? A review of the current policies will highlight both the gaps and the opportunities for change. As striking as the above facts are, the full story is both more complicated and more compelling. We begin then with a closer examination of the facts.

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