State House News Service

Report: Mass. Should Revisit ‘Tough-On-Crime’ Sentencing

BOSTON — With correction costs spiraling upwards, Massachusetts should impose a moratorium on state and county prison expansion, revisit its “tough-on-crime” sentencing laws and expand programs aimed at preventing recidivism, according to a report released Monday by MassINC and a new coalition helmed by prominent former criminal defense, prosecutorial and public safety officials.

The report found the percentage of the state’s population in prison or jail has tripled since the early 1980s and state spending on corrections policies will top $2 billion over the next decade, up from more than $1 billion currently, without major changes in public policy.

According to the report, which also found the state’s parole rate has plunged, six of every 10 inmates leaving state and county prisons commit new crimes within six years of release.

The report revisits many of the claims long made by proponents of sentencing reforms, who have argued that Massachusetts should follow the leads of other states that have taken steps to curb the growth of correction budgets by focusing on reentry programs and eliminating mandatory minimum sentencing policies, especially for drug offenders.

“Massachusetts has taken some tentative steps toward reform, but it remains wedded to policies heavily weighted toward incarceration,” MassINC wrote in a press release announcing the report’s findings and introducing the coalition.

“This report documents the problems and the potential solutions to what has become a point of reckoning in criminal justice policy in Massachusetts,” Wayne Budd, former U.S. attorney and co-chair of the newly formed Criminal Justice Coalition, said in a statement. “It is time we joined other states that are investing in what works, rather than spending money on what doesn’t.”

The coalition is also chaired by Kevin Burke, former state public safety secretary, and Max Stern, president of the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

On the heels of passing a new law toughening sentencing on repeat violent offenders last summer, criminal justice policy was identified by Gov. Deval Patrick and legislative leaders is a priority issue to revisit in 2013 but there’s been no tangible momentum behind the issue so far this year on Beacon Hill.

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