Finding Better Ways to Allocate Limited Public Safety Resources

Estimating the costs and savings attached to criminal justice reform legislation

Massachusetts’s criminal justice reform legislation is arguably the most wide-ranging and comprehensive in the country, at least as far as progress in a single legislative session goes. However, unlike most states that have pursued comprehensive reform, our legislation was largely crafted without independent technical assistance from the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI). One of the key services JRI provides is estimating both the costs and the savings attached to reform legislation.

In the absence of an independent estimate, it is unclear how much money will be required to implement the reform bills Governor Baker signed in April.

The supplemental appropriation Governor Baker filed recently includes $33 million to implement the new laws through FY 2019. The Governor’s language specifies that these funds will support newly mandated programs in prisons and jails, new protocols for testing and tracking Sexual Assault Evidence Kits, expanded oversight of forensic laboratories, and new responsibilities at the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services, the Parole Board, the trial courts, and district attorneys’ offices.

While the Governor’s request does not include a detailed breakdown of how these funds would be allocated, through line items, the spending bill directs the largest share to the DOC ($10.7 million), followed by the Sheriff’s Association ($6.6 million) and the State Police Crime Laboratory ($6 million). EOPPS ($2.3 million), the DA’s Association ($1.4 million), the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services ($1.3 million), the Parole Board ($1.2 million), Probation ($1.1 million), and Community Corrections ($1.1 million) receive smaller shares.

So far, the Legislature has provided little indication of how it will approach funding implementation. The House did provide $3 million for residential reentry programs as a down payment (and an attempt to address the defunding of reentry programs over the past few years) in its FY 2019 budget. The Senate budget did not fund reentry, so it is now a matter of negotiation for the conference committee.

However, the Senate budget did include vital language (Section 131) creating a new commission to study spending by correctional agencies. These provisions are more extensive than the correctional expenditure language the Senate offered in last year’s budget, which was released on the heels of a MassINC report revealing stark disparities between rising correctional expenditures and falling correctional populations. While last year’s Senate language did not survive the conference committee, this year is different in two respects.

First, the language creating a commission does not restrict the ability of agencies to spend above their budget appropriations, as MassINC’s latest research shows, such a provision would represent a significant reduction in funding for most Sheriff’s departments.

Meet the Author

Ben Forman

Research Director, MassINC

About Ben Forman

Benjamin Forman is MassINC’s research director. He coordinates the development of the organization’s research agenda and oversees production of research reports. Ben has authored a number of MassINC publications and he speaks frequently to organizations and media across Massachusetts.

About Ben Forman

Benjamin Forman is MassINC’s research director. He coordinates the development of the organization’s research agenda and oversees production of research reports. Ben has authored a number of MassINC publications and he speaks frequently to organizations and media across Massachusetts.

Second, the legislative component of criminal justice reform is now complete. The only thing that we are lacking is an understanding of what it will mean in terms of costs and savings. Convening an independent commission would provide us with this essential information.

From young adult justice to criminal justice data infrastructure, the reform package included numerous commissions to study critical questions that remain unanswered. But there is no issue more fundamental to the whole concept of Justice Reinvestment than the proper allocation of limited public safety resources. Moving swiftly to establish an expenditure commission would surely be a positive step toward the successful implementation of the Legislature’s landmark criminal justice reform package.