Reforming the Criminal Justice System

    Massachusetts cannot continue to imprison more and more of our citizens at an ever increasing cost. This trend is not fiscally sustainable, it often doesn't make sense from a law enforcement perspective, and it does not reflect the kind of Massachusetts we want to be. Juliette will make sure that our criminal justice system becomes more evidence based and less wasteful; more rehabilitative and less purely punitive; and, perhaps most importantly, more focused on integrating those who have served their time back into society as productive citizens rather than ignoring their problems once they leave a correctional facility. In order for the Commonwealth to seize the opportunities of the future and build inclusive and productive communities, we must do better when it comes to our criminal justice system. Under a Kayyem Administration, we will.

    HOW DO WE MAKE OUR CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM SMARTER AND BETTER?

    Implementing Common Sense, Evidence-Based Policy Changes Across the Board

    • Launch a multi-pronged Criminal Justice Task Force empowered with real authority to partner with every level of government and the community to make concrete progress.

    • Create cost-benefit analyses across the entire Massachusetts criminal justice system to assess the extent to which existing programs are working, eliminate ineffective approaches, and to expand efforts that show results.

    • Release the results of these efforts in the first 18 months of the Kayyem administration.

    Reducing Recidivism and Reintegrating the Formerly Incarcerated

    • Decrease overly lengthy incarceration for non-violent technical violations.

    • Increase investments in education and job training programs that research shows decrease the recidivism rate and improve future employment prospects.

    • Increase funding for and the availability of substance abuse treatment and health services before, during, and after incarceration – particularly for high-risk groups like younger prisoners, those with a family history of substance abuse, and those whose family or friends deal drugs.

    • Implement programs and systems that help inmates maintain ties with their families during incarceration in order to help the formerly incarcerated successfully reintegrate into society.

    • Focus on the critical first few months after prisoners are released by providing comprehensive support services.

    Making the Criminal Justice System More Humane and Cost-Effective

    • Expand Veterans Treatment Courts to ensure those who've served our nation receive the attention and structure they need when they encounter the criminal justice system.

    • Reduce costs to the state by aligning the security level needed for inmates with the facilities that they are incarcerated in.

    • Reform sentencing requirements for drug offenders and invest in additional treatment and prevention programs.

    THE ISSUE: CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

    The Massachusetts criminal justice system faces serious challenges resulting from a dramatic increase in the prison population and associated costs since the 1980s. The percentage of the Massachusetts population in corrections facilities has tripled during this time, primarily in response to harsher enforcement and sentencing policies implemented during the 1980’s and 1990’s. As a result, state corrections budgets (adjusted for inflation) grew 127 percent between 1987 and 2007. Meanwhile, revenue during this period was stagnant. Increased funding for corrections facilities has therefore been linked to declining budgets for other programs including mental health and substance abuse services, higher education, job training, and law enforcement – all of which can play an important role in preventing criminal behavior. Given these circumstances, it is not surprising that recidivism rates remain high – further exacerbating the growing prison population and skyrocketing costs.

    Much effort has been placed on criminal justice reform by the Patrick administration as well as local communities who are pushing for creative solutions to our growing prison population. This work will continue and expand under a Kayyem administration to ensure the prison population not meet the projected 5 percent growth by 2020 – costing the Commonwealth an additional $120 million per year as well as approximately $1 billion for new facilities. Many citizens of Massachusetts feel the human costs of the criminal justice crisis even after incarceration as former inmates struggle with re-entry.

    One of the benefits of Juliette’s experiences in federal government, and her work with so many other states, means she is keenly aware of some of their mistakes, as well as their solutions. A number of other states, including Texas, Georgia, South Carolina, and Arkansas, have recognized the need for criminal justice reform and have adopted the Justice Reinvestment model since the early 2000’s. This model seeks to implement evidence-based reforms to the criminal justice system, including reforms to sentencing and the reorientation of policy towards preventative programs. Participating states have reaped significant qualitative benefits and cost savings. Massachusetts would benefit from reorienting its criminal justice system towards this model.

    We are well beyond believing that criminal justice reform is “soft on crime.” Juliette, who has confronted criminal conduct throughout her career in homeland and national security, knows that those words are just fear tactics. Criminal justice reform is about preparing prisoners who have served their time for re-entry into our state. It is about preparing our communities and our state for a different approach to crime and crime prevention. It is about our progressive politics and our humane treatment. Juliette will push for the more comprehensive overhaul that Massachusetts deserves.

    CHALLENGES FACING THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM IN MASSACHUSETTS

    The growing cost of the criminal justice system in Massachusetts results from several specific factors including the size of the incarcerated population and over classification of inmates to medium and maximum security levels. In the absence of policy changes, over the next decade the Commonwealth can expect to face costs of $1.5 billion from incarcerating offenders for longer periods of time relative to 1990; $900 million from incarcerating more drug offenders relative to 1985; $160 million from moving inmates to higher-security facilities relative to 1990; and $20 million from uncollected taxes from lost wages relative to 1987, according to a March 2013 report by MassInc. In addition to the direct costs, the way in which the Commonwealth’s criminal justice system currently operates results in significant opportunity cost and collateral damage to citizens and local communities.

    Growth in the Size of the Incarcerated Population

    Several factors have contributed to the growth of the prison population over recent decades. The size of the incarcerated population has resulted in the need for additional facilities and skyrocketing annual costs. On average it costs approximately $45,500 per year to house each inmate in state facilities and $37,000 in county facilities. Halting the growth of the prison population is essential to reducing its financial burden.

    One factor contributing to the growing size of the prison population has been a marked increase in the length of incarceration periods over recent decades. Research has estimated that since 1990 average incarceration periods have increased by approximately one year for state inmates and 41 days for county inmates. The total additional cost of longer incarceration periods relative to 1990 is estimated to be roughly $150 million per year.

    Incarceration of Drug Offenders: Policy changes in the 1980’s, particularly those designed to crackdown on crack cocaine, led to a 375 percent increase in the number of drug offenders incarcerated in Department of Corrections (DOC) prisons between 1985 and 1990. Since 1990, 27 percent of the growth in the DOC population is the result of continued growth in the number of drug offenders receiving prison sentences. Research has shown that increased levels of incarceration for drug offenders increases the likelihood of further criminal activity.

    Recidivism: Another factor contributing to the size of to the incarcerated population in Massachusetts is the fact that a significant number of the individuals released from corrections facilities end up back in the corrections system shortly thereafter. Studies suggest that the recidivism rate in Massachusetts is approximately 40 percent within three years and 60 percent within six years. The recidivism rate can be partially attributed to a decline in parole supervision upon release, inadequate programs to support re-entry, and a decline in funding for prison education programs. Reducing the recidivism rate by just 5 percent would result in savings estimated at $150 million per year.

    Growth in Maximum-Security Facilities

    In addition to the costs associated with the growth in the size of the incarcerated population, Massachusetts incurs additional expenses as a result of a mismatch between the security level of facilities that have available beds and the security level required for the individuals that need to be placed in facilities. Higher-security facilities are more expensive to the tune of approximately $10,000 more per inmate per year. The percentage of inmates in DOC maximum-security facilities has increased from less than 8 percent in 1990 to more than 18 percent in 2012. This is partially the result of a waiting list of inmates who could be transferred to lower-security facilities if additional beds were available.

    Our Future and Opportunity Costs

    Former inmates are often ill prepared to re-enter society, placing an additional burden on families, communities, and the state. Many prisoners lack the academic and professional qualifications to maintain a job after they are released. Approximately 50 percent lack a high school degree or equivalent and more than 50 percent have been previously fired from a job. Additionally, many depended on illegal income prior to incarceration and approximately 25 percent will relapse to drug or alcohol abuse within a year of release. It is estimated that former inmates earn on average 40 percent less per year as a result of lower wages and lower employment rates – representing an enormous burden for families. Additionally, more than half of all inmates and two thirds of female inmates are parents with children under age 18, and children with parents in prison are significantly more likely to enter the child welfare system. The impact of this burden is experienced disproportionately in cities and communities with higher crime and incarceration rates.

    Further, in addition to the direct costs, the status quo of the criminal justice system produces collateral damage in communities throughout the Commonwealth, and funding allocated to the Massachusetts corrections system diminishes the resources available for other critical programs. The cost of state and local corrections facilities falls to taxpayers, either in the form of increased taxes or reductions to spending in other areas. Over the past ten years, budgets for public safety, mental health, economic development, and education have all declined significantly. Simply put, spending money on prisons but not rehabilitative programs or job development contributes to a cycle of crime and incarceration. This exacerbates the trauma of crime victims, as our neighborhoods are not made safer when we fail to effectively reintegrate former inmates into society. To create safer communities throughout the state for all of our citizens, we cannot simply lock up offenders for as long as possible—we must implement real reforms to our criminal justice system that address all of the sources of criminal activity.

    REFORMING THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM

    Common Sense, Evidence-Based Policy Changes

    Launch a multi-pronged Criminal Justice Task Force to conduct and utilize cost-benefit analyses to assess the extent to which existing programs are working, eliminate ineffective programs and expand programs that work. We can achieve these results by launching a multi-pronged Criminal Justice Task Force empowered with real authority to partner with every level of government and the community to make concrete progress. Other states have reaped significant cost savings by reducing minimum sentencing requirements and expanding reentry programs, and Massachusetts should follow their lead.

    Reform sentencing requirements for drug offenders and invest in additional treatment and prevention programs. Research conducted nationwide has indicated that the incarceration of drug offenders does not significantly reduce crime. Nevertheless, the number of drug offenders in Massachusetts corrections facilities has steadily increased since the 1980s. The reduction of this population to 1990 levels would save the state an estimated $35 million per year, which could be redirected towards proven preventative programs and treatment. This approach has been effective in other states. For example, in 2010, rather than spend $458 million on operating and construction costs for new prisons to keep up with projected prison growth, South Carolina passed major sentencing reform legislation that is projected to save the state $241 million.

    Expand Veterans Treatment Courts to ensure those who've served our nation receive the attention and structure they need when they encounter the criminal justice system. Veterans are disproportionately represented within the criminal justice system – often as a result of the unfathomable trauma they experienced while in service or difficulties reintegrating when they return. Left untreated, mental health disorders and/or related substance abuse can lead a veteran into the criminal justice system. Veterans Treatment Courts will both help us fulfill our obligation to these veterans, and ensure that they don’t reoffend.

    Veterans Treatment Courts create a structured intervention, which requires the veteran to make regular court appearances. It is modeled after a military unit – the judge is the commanding officer and the court team becomes the company staff, connecting a veteran to treatment and rehabilitative services. Veterans are provided mentors who understand the challenges the struggling veteran faces and provide the camaraderie veterans often miss when they come home. These courts have a veterans-only docket, which allows veterans to appear before judges who are familiar with the unique issues they face.

    Norfolk County is currently piloting a veteran’s court in Dedham, which follows the Veterans Treatment Court model. The court convenes once a week. Eligible veterans are sentenced to probation and avoid jail as long as they comply with the program. Juliette would work with the legislature to expand the Veterans Treatment Court model across the state.

    Reducing Recidivism

    Successfully reintegrating the formerly incarcerated into society is essential for public safety, our families, and our communities – and it makes economic sense. We can take a number of common sense steps to reduce the recidivism rate in Massachusetts.

    Increase investments in education and job training programs. Research suggests that providing education to prisoners while they are incarcerated decreases the recidivism rate and improves future employment prospects. Inmates’ chances of getting jobs after release increase by 13 percent if they participate in academic or vocational programs while in prison, and by 28 percent if they receive vocational training. Inmates educated in prison are 43 percent less likely to be arrested for new crimes. Every $1 in prison education can save an estimated $4-5 in incarceration costs.

    Increase funding for and the availability of substance abuse treatment and health services before, during and after incarceration. Research indicates that inmates who participate in substance abuse treatment are less likely to return to drug use upon their release. The most effective programs target high-risk groups including younger prisoners, those with a family history of substance abuse, and those whose friends deal drugs. These programs are essential to preventing relapses that threaten our communities and swell our prison population.

    Implement programs and systems that encourage inmates to maintain contact with their families during incarceration. Research indicates that former prisoners with strong family ties generally experience more successful re-entries. Families provide emotional support and can be a source of financial assistance and housing.

    Provide comprehensive support services for reintegration. Research suggests that prisoners can benefit from programs and counseling to help them establish financial independence and stability as they are reintegrated into society. Post-release programs are the critical foundation for the recently released to find housing and jobs, achieve financial independence, and ultimately become stable, contributing members of our state.

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