Rethinking The State's Criminal Justice System

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Efforts in Massachusetts to reform the criminal justice system are part of a nationwide push away from the tough-on-crime approach of the 1980s and 1990s. Today, states from Massachusetts to Texas are reevaluating polices that have caused prison populations to swell to historic levels.

This week, Massachusetts state officials have asked for a Justice Department-funded top-to-bottom review of its criminal justice policies — from early release programs, to substance abuse counseling to post-release supervision. The hope is to reduce incarceration costs and bring down the recidivism rate, which has remained at 40 percent for a number of years.

In a display of political unity, Gov. Charlie Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Senate President Stan Rosenberg and Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants requested the review. It will be carried out by something called the Justice Reinvestment Initiative — funded by the Justice Department and the Pew Center on the States.

We discuss the review with Senate President Stan Rosenberg and two other experts in the field.


Stan Rosenberg, president of the Massachusetts State Senate. He tweets @SenStan.

Kevin Burke, chair of the criminal justice department at Endicott College, former Massachusetts public safety secretary and former Essex County district attorney.

Rachel Corey, interim executive director of the Criminal Justice Policy Coalition, which tweets @CJPC_Boston.


WBUR: Top Mass. Officials Unite Around Criminal Justice Reform Initiative

  • "Massachusetts lawmakers over the years have been unable to come up with omnibus criminal justice system reforms, with debates often bogging down due to funding obstacles, disagreements over changes in sentencing laws, and the complexities involved with overhauling a system that spans many agencies and involves county sheriffs as well."

Commonwealth Magazine: Massachusetts Commits To Criminal Justice Review

  • "With policing practices, high incarceration rates among minorities, and stiff drug sentencing laws drawing scrutiny across the country, Massachusetts will join a national wave of state efforts to rethink criminal justice policies."

Office Of The Governor: Justice Reinvestment Letter

  • "Without limiting the scope of your data analysis, we hope, looking at the data as a whole, to better understand how we can further reduce recidivism and enable successful re-entry, and whether we can further reduce our prison and jail populations through early release programs while ensuring appropriate punishment and preserving public safety."

The New York Times: Probation May Sound Light, But Punishments Can Land Hard

  • "'There are a number of people around the country being put on probation that don’t really need to be on probation,' said Carl Wicklund, the executive director of the American Parole and Probation Association, a professional group. 'It’s a bad use of resources, and it’s bad for the individual.' Nationally, only about two-thirds of probationers successfully complete their terms, according to federal data."

This segment aired on August 3, 2015.


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