Criminal justice bill can be game changer for young adults

We can reduce recidivism and costs while improving public safety

THE COMMONWEALTH’S criminal justice reform efforts offer a unique opportunity to achieve a triple impact: improve public safety, reduce public spending on crime prevention, and redefine futures for our highest-risk young adults.

In Massachusetts, young adults ages 18-24 represent the largest percentage of individuals incarcerated. They also represent the highest rates of recidivism: 51 percent of those released from county jails are re-arraigned within one year.

In contrast, both Roca and UTEC, Massachusetts community-based programs working with the highest-risk young adults, have demonstrated recidivism rates that average less than 15 percent. When one compares the costs of incarceration (averaging $53,000 per year for prison housing expenses alone according to the Massachusetts Department of Correction) with the much lower costs to effectively serve a young adult in one of our programs, the benefits and savings seem clear and compelling.

However, residents may still believe that this higher cost of incarceration is the assumed price tag necessary to keep our communities safe. Yet, we know that we can actually reduce both recidivism and costs, simultaneously ensuring public safety and building safe, stable futures for our highest-risk young people.  Thanks to support over the past five years from the House, Senate, and governor, residents of the Commonwealth have already benefitted from this targeted approach. Massachusetts has gained national recognition for its statewide recidivism reduction program for young adults, the Safe and Successful Youth Initiative. SSYI has been effective in reducing youth violence in its targeted areas.

We are pleased to see the Senate introduce a comprehensive approach that will continue and enhance this data-driven approach to young adult violence and criminal activity.  Thanks to the support of Senate President Stan Rosenberg and the many months of research led by the Senate chairman of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, Will Brownsberger, the Senate will consider potential reforms today that improve outcomes while reducing spending. Through justice reinvestment, we can create savings that the Commonwealth can dedicate to community recidivism reduction efforts that are already proving their success. And doing so will keep us all safer.

The legislation under consideration includes important reforms for young adults that have been championed by leaders like Sen. Karen Spilka.  Sen. Spilka has long advocated for policies and funding that will reduce crime and better launch our young people.  She and her colleagues have understood that this specific population and the Commonwealth in general are best served when selected juvenile records can be expunged and the age at which young people can be sentenced as adults is raised.

We similarly welcome the House’s contributions to advance young adult justice reforms. Speaker Robert DeLeo’s leadership and commitment to recidivism reduction, House Judiciary chair Claire Cronin’s keen interest in effective policies that reduce crime among young adults, and the strong leadership of representatives from the various communities we serve, are all true reasons for hope.

This legislative session presents a unique opportunity for meaningful reforms that will further reduce recidivism in our communities. We believe that this is the time to build on past successes in Massachusetts and lead bold reforms to enhance safety and equity for all. A comprehensive reform that includes focused attention on young adults will have the largest possible impact and the greatest possible return on investment – from public health, economic, and public safety perspectives.

Meet the Author
Meet the Author
Ultimately, in addition to these widespread public benefits, we hope that criminal justice reform will mean that every young adult has the opportunity and the needed support to be a productive member of our great Commonwealth.

Gregg Croteau is executive director of UTEC and Molly Baldwin is the CEO and founder of Roca.