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,.

Not every move toward corrections reform is bearing fruit, however,. A new study of halfway houses in Pennsylvania, which are supposed save money and help ease inmates back into productive pursuits, found that inmates who spent time in the programs were actually more likely to be rearrested than those released directly from prison.

                                                                                                                                                        –MICHAEL JONAS

 

BEACON HILL

The Globe editorial page lends support for Gov. Deval Patrick’s ambitious transportation budget plan.

State lawmakers will consider a bill that would toughen up penalties, including incarceration, on landlords who rent illegal apartments.

Plymouth County Sheriff Joseph McDonald, under fire for an ill-advised joke about President Obama at the Republican St. Patrick’s Day breakfast, has been invited by the Plymouth town moderator to open Town Meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The hunt for a new solicitor in Methuen takes an odd turn as one candidate seemed to get an early interview, although the candidate says the mixup can be traced to a typographical error, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

The Globe looks at Mayor Tom Menino’s keep ‘em guessing game.

The developer of a proposed $20 million apartment complex near Kelleher Pond in Beverly calls the project off in the face of neighborhood opposition and puts the land up for sale, the Salem News reports.

CASINOS

Taunton officials want to amend their mitigation agreement with the Mashpee Wampanoag in case the tribe purchases the Silver City Galleria land and expands its casino operations there, which is not covered by the current deal.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Michael Bloomberg will pour $12 million into a campaign to press Congress on gun laws. The head of the NRA says Bloomberg is trying to buy America, the Washington Post reports.

Senator Elizabeth Warren  is encouraged by a nonbinding vote to end subsidies for “too big to fail” banks, MassLive reports.

Bill Keller sees state governments getting overrun by a “mix of public indifference and activist opportunism.”

Indian tribes are looking for more federal aid, as their casino revenues slump.

ELECTIONS

GOP Senate candidate Gabriel Gomez gets a half-hour with Keller@Large to make his case and establish his conservative bona fides, a stark contrast to the moderate Republican he portrayed himself as in a letter to Gov. Deval Patrick. Kimberly Atkins blames the malaise gripping the Senate election on the unwillingness of Reps. Ed Markey and Steve Lynch to engage one another.

Ten towns in the South Coast area opted to leave their local elections on the scheduled dates rather than move them to the same day as the special Senate primaries or elections to save money.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Long-term unemployment is hitting older male workers particularly hard, the Globe reports.

Nearly three-quarters of tax filers will get a refund which is not necessarily a good thing because it means that most Americans have too much money deducted from their paychecks.

Ed Glaeser looks for meaning in Detroit’s financial ruin.

EDUCATION

Former lieutenant governor Kerry Healey will be the new president of Babson College, the first woman to helm the Wellesley business-oriented school.

School sweeps with drug-sniffing dogs are becoming routine in South Shore towns.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Falmouth is the latest town to face mounting opposition to wind turbines.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

A martial arts teacher from Millis who runs a number of after-school programs in the state has been charged with sexually assaulting one of his students in Braintree.

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

MEDIA

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