Corrections reform lagging, report says
Massachusetts may be a leader in such areas as clean energy, health care, and education, but we are a big laggard when it comes to reform of a corrections system that leans heavily on tough-on-crime sentencing and incarceration policies that are enormously costly and do little to reduce crime or recidivism. That’s the conclusion of a new research report released this morning, prepared jointly by MassINC and Community Resources for Justice, a Boston nonprofit.
The report says the move toward longer sentences in the 1980s and ‘90s, a get-tough approach that took places in states across the country, has left Massachusetts with ballooning prison costs. The study says harsher sentences and fewer paroles are costing the state $150 million than was spent in 1990. The state is committing a significant portion of its corrections budget to confining those with drug offenses, a group that accounts for more than one-quarter of the total growth in the prison population since 1990. Reducing the number of inmates serving drug sentences to the level it was in 1985 would save the state an additional $90 million a year, says the report, which was issued by a new group of current and former law enforcement officials called the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Reform Coalition.
There is broad support for the idea of providing some type of post-release supervision to help transition inmates back into society. Advocates support such an approach as a strategy to reduce the high rates of recidivism seen with former inmates. More than half of all inmates released from state prisons in 2011, however, received no post-incarceration supervision. “What the report shows is that it’s a problem with the corrections system’s front and back doors — sentencing and release,” Greg Torres, the president of MassINC, told the Globe.
The new report comes in the midst of a flurry of activity by states to examine sentencing and corrections policies. A number of the country’s most conservative states have led a move to rethink sentencing and incarceration policies. States like Texas, Mississippi, and South Carolina — nobody’s idea of soft-on-crime havens — have been revamping their policies to reduce sentences for nonviolent offenses and increase substance abuse and mental health services. In a Nixon-goes-to-China parallel, no one seemsto accuse these states of going soft on those who need to be put away, while politicians in liberal-leaning Massachusetts, still haunted by the Willie Horton case that helped sink Michael Dukakis’s 1988 presidential run, seem skittish about pursuing aggressive reforms,.
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