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March 25, 2013

New report assails Massachusetts sentencing and corrections policies and practices

CostofPrisonJPGThumb.ashxThis lengthy article from the Boston Globe discusses a big new forthcoming report highlighing failings in the sentencing and punishment systems in Massachusetts.  The article is headlined "Report slams state for lack of corrections reform: Crime down, prison costs up as study urges shorter sentences, focus on parole," and it gets started this way:

Despite steeply declining violent crime rates, the percentage of Massachusetts residents behind bars has tripled since the early 1980s, as the Commonwealth has clung to tough-on-crime laws that many other states have abandoned as ineffective, according to a study being released this week.

The 40-page report — endorsed by a coalition of prominent former prosecutors, defense attorneys, and justice officials — slams the state for focusing too much on prolonged incarceration, through measures such as mandatory minimum sentences, and for paying too little attention to successfully integrating prisoners back into society.

This is not just a social justice issue, the coalition argues, but a serious budgetary problem. The report estimated that policies that have led to more Draconian sentences and fewer paroles have extended prison stays by a third since 1990, costing the state an extra $150 million a year.

“It’s an odd set of numbers: crime going down while prison populations are still going up,” said Greg Torres, president of MassINC, the nonpartisan research group that commissioned the study. “What the report shows is that it’s a problem with the corrections systems front and back doors — sentencing and release.”

The study says Massachusetts, with its rising prison population, is heading in the opposite direction of several more traditionally law-and-order states — many of which have changed sentencing requirements, closed prisons, and cut costs. While other states have seen drops in incarceration in conjunction with falling crime rates, Massachusetts has seen the opposite.

In addition to the longer prison stays, Torres said, a reduction in post-release supervision has left Massachusetts with a recidivism rate higher than many other states, which in turn has sent more offenders back to prison. New data in the report show that six of every 10 inmates released from state and county prisons commit new crimes within six years. If the recidivism rate was cut by 5 percent, the report says, Massachusetts could cut $150 million from its more than $1 billion corrections budget.

Released in partnership with the newly formed grouping of law-enforcement officials, which is called Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, and Community Resources for Justice, a social justice nonprofit group, the report issues include a moratorium on the expansion of state prisons, reexamining sentencing guidelines, and expanding prerelease programs. “In the last 10 years we’ve learned a lot about what doesn’t work,” said John Larivee, chief executive of Community Resources for Justice and coauthor of the report.

One key to changing the state’s corrections system, the report’s authors stress, is building bipartisan consensus so neither side can later be accused of being soft on crime. “There’s more bipartisan common ground than you might expect,” said Wayne Budd, a Republican who is one of the reform coalition’s three co-chairmen.

In addition to Budd, the coalition is led by Kevin M. Burke, former state secretary of public safety, and Max D. Stern, president of the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

UPDATE:  The full 40-page report, which is titled "Crime, Cost, and Consequences: Is it Time to Get Smart on Crime?," is now available via this link.

March 25, 2013 at 10:06 AM | Permalink

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Comments

"Despite steeply declining violent crime rates, the percentage of Massachusetts residents behind bars has tripled since the early 1980s"

Wonder if there is any connection? hmm..nah...simplistic right-wing tripe

Criminals don't repeat.
Let them out earlier and see.

"I really do not in the least believe in crime."~C. Darrow, 1902

Posted by: Adamakis | Mar 25, 2013 10:17:47 AM

Adamakis --

No, of course the two are not related. The fact that, as the report states, Massachusetts has "steeply declining violent crime rates" has NOTHING TO DO WITH the fact that Massachusetts has impriosned more of those who commit violent crime.

Noooooooooo, not that.

It has to do with.............sunspots.

C'mon, Adamakis, get with it.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 25, 2013 10:44:01 AM

I think the main point of the article was this:
Violent crime is going down and incarceration rates are still climbing...

Indicating that they feel sentences are too long and Re Entry programs are needed to reduce
repeats. Even if only a reduction of %5, would save money....This is the jist of the article..

Posted by: MidWestGuy | Mar 25, 2013 5:03:56 PM

MidWestGuy --

"I think the main point of the article was this:
Violent crime is going down and incarceration rates are still climbing..."

I agree that that is the point of the article. What it doesn't seem to realize is that violent crime rates have fallen in signficant part BECAUSE we have kept incarceration rates rising.

Thus, 15 years ago, the exact same thing could have been said (Violent crime is going down and incarceration rates are still climbing.) It could have been said 10 years ago and 5 years ago. But if we had frozen incarceration 5, 10, or 15 years ago, we'd have more crime now, and would not have made as much progress against crime as we have.

At some point, you reach diminishing marginal returns to scale (a universal statistical phenomenon that has nothing in particular to do with crime or incarceration). But the major point is that, to the extent the article implies that it's ironic or perverse to have rising incarceration while we have falling crime, it's just dead wrong. It has the logic backward.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 25, 2013 7:04:36 PM

I'm reposting this to my blog. Thanks for reporting on it.

I don't think that it's at all clear that the fall in violent crime rates is caused by locking more violent criminals up for longer. As the report makes clear, other countries did not lock more violent criminals up for longer, and still saw sharp falls in violent crime rates.

A natural desire to lock everybody up for ever, takes no account of the costs of such a policy, or of how doing that crowds out investment in other things we might like more of, like better education, lead abatement or public transportation, which might also in turn have a positive effect on crime down the road.

Posted by: Alex Marthews | Mar 26, 2013 9:45:36 AM

Alex Matthews --

"I don't think that it's at all clear that the fall in violent crime rates is caused by locking more violent criminals up for longer."

It's never "clear" to the pro-defense crowd that incarcerating criminals does anything to reduce crime. The reduction of crime by more than half in the last generation has come about because of.........sunspots.

Righto.

Fine. I've gone over this too often to do it again with the latest ideologue with a blog.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 26, 2013 10:19:32 AM

Hello.This article was really fascinating, especially because I was browsing for thoughts on this issue last week..... i really enjoy your blog

Posted by: swing sets | Mar 27, 2013 5:38:13 AM

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