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The chief justice of the state's Supreme Judicial Court is calling for alternative approaches to responding to crime, saying in an address to the Massachusetts Bar Association Tuesday that the nation has "gone mad with mass incarceration."
Vowing to let data drive the analysis, Chief Justice Ralph Gants cited some dramatic statistics, noting that its rate of incarceration would make Massachusetts eighth-highest in the world if it were its own nation.
In his second annual State of the Judiciary address, Gants noted a severe need for greater supervision of prisoners upon their release to help keep them from returning to prison.
Almost half of those released from state prison in Massachusetts in 2012, Gants said, were let out without supervised parole or probation.
"Does it make sense that those prisoners who are most at risk of committing new crimes are denied parole and will have no supervision upon their release?" he asked. "Does it make sense that a Superior Court judge who has determined that a convicted defendant should be supervised upon release from prison is unable to predict with confidence the likelihood that a defendant will be granted parole?"
Raising questions rather than asserting answers, Gants suggested an alternative approach.
Gants also asked: Should we promote re-entry programs to ease an inmate's return to society? If so, should we drop mandatory minimum sentencing, which prevents inmates from re-entering society until they have finished their sentences?
Gants acknowledged the additional financial cost of more supervision. But that would be offset, he said, by the reduction in prison time and prisoners.
"There is certainly room in Massachusetts for justice reinvestment, and I am confident we can find common ground with the Legislature and the governor on ways to be smarter on sentencing so that we can reduce both the rate of incarceration and the rate of recidivism," he said.
Gants also suggests that charging fees to defendants, most of whom are "dead broke or nearly broke," he said, makes it more difficult for them to succeed after prison.
This segment aired on October 21, 2015.
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