Governor Deval Patrick today announced a package of sustainable, cost-effective criminal justice initiatives that will help Massachusetts reach the goal of reducing recidivism by 50 percent over the next five years by dramatically improving inmates' reentry into their communities, increasing educational and workforce training opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals, improving treatment options for individuals suffering from substance abuse and mental illness and enhancing public safety in communities across the state.
"We think there is a more pragmatic, more effective and most efficient way to think about criminal justice, one that deals with the realities of today, learns from the experience of the past, and actually makes the public safer," said Governor Patrick. "Today we are taking additional steps, working together, to make our communities safe, to work repeat offenders and reduce recidivism."
The Governor's proposal recognizes that preparation for re-entry must be intentional and start at the point of entry and includes improvements to the Department of Correction's (DOC) classification system and the launch of a step-down program that provides more opportunity for inmates to access educational and training programs. The Governor also strongly believes that substance abuse must be treated as a health problem and not a criminal issue, and has proposed steps to increase the availability of substance abuse treatment programs in community settings. Additionally, to better care for those suffering from mental illness in custody, the Governor has proposed additional funding to train law enforcement to learn how to de-escalate and properly handle people with mental health issues and refocused the Department on ensuring that the use of restraints is a last resort. The Governor also called for an end to the use of restraints on pregnant inmates during labor. While current regulations already prohibit this practice in state prisons, the Department of Corrections will issue emergency regulations extending that prohibition to all facilities, including Houses of Correction. Lastly, the Governor called for a renewed focus on bringing criminal sentencing in Massachusetts up to date, proposing to reinvigorate the Sentencing Commission's work of bringing a critical and data-based lens to the Commonwealth's sentencing practices.
"The Governor's re-entry proposal is sustainable, cost-effective and improves opportunities for former inmates", said Secretary of Public Safety and Security Andrea Cabral. "Accountability and rehabilitation are not mutually exclusive. A sustainable future for corrections must focus on providing both."
Promoting Successful Reentry
Governor Patrick's reentry plan improves public safety by better preparing an inmate for release to the community and decreasing the likelihood of repeat criminal activity. Currently, the Department of Corrections (DOC) classification system does not facilitate the movement of inmates from higher-security to lower-security custody categories and thereby constricts the number of inmates eligible to participate in programs that may reduce their likelihood of re-offending upon release. Reforms include:
Improving the inmate classification system, resulting in the identification of 125 inmates already who can move to minimum security facilities and access more reentry programming prior to release to supervision or to the general public.
Launching a step-down program in partnership with five Sheriffs (in Berkshire, Essex, Hampden, Hampshire and Suffolk counties) to allow select inmates to complete their sentences at county-based Houses of Corrections (HOCs) and preparing offenders for life in the community after completing their sentence. Currently, 300 eligible candidates have been identified.
Substantially increasing the DOC's capacity to provide evidence-based inmate programs by creating new programming space within DOC prisons, moving administrative staff to a redeveloped public safety administration building in Milford.
In partnership with the Sheriffs, DOC is also implementing a substance abuse recovery program using injectable naltrexone, a medication designed to help individuals recover from opioid or alcohol dependence. The program requires that post-release after-care connects the inmate to a community-based clinic to receive follow-up injections and behavioral health treatment once released in order to promote long-term recovery.
Expanding Access to Proper Treatment for Substance Abuse
Since 2006, there has been a 67 percent increase in the number of civilly committed individuals in Massachusetts. The resulting volume has exceeded the inpatient bed capacity of the Department of Public Health's (DPH) two dedicated civil commitment treatment facilities located in Brockton and New Bedford. By statute, committed individuals who are unable to secure a DPH bed are directed to the Bridgewater (men) or Framingham (women) prisons. The majority of individuals who are diverted to DOC facilities would be eligible for admission to a DPH dedicated facility if beds were available. DPH is better suited to provide treatment and services for this population.
To increase the availability of and improve the quality of treatment options for those suffering from substance abuse the Governor has proposed:
Broadening the type of facilities where civilly committed individuals can receive treatment;
Creating a central intake to match individuals to treatment facilities and placing addiction specialists in selected courts to provide consultation to court clinicians to assist in finding appropriate treatment placements for individuals;
Expanding detoxification services and clinical stabilization services in the public system;
Adding 64 new inpatient beds in the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services Metrowest region, which is currently is the only region without a detoxification program; and
Continuing the $10 million legislative expansion of civil commitment services,
including the addition of 80 new Transitional Support Services beds, 200 new residential beds and community-based case management services.
Improving Care for Mentally Ill Individuals in Custody
In many cases, individuals suffering from mental illness come to prisons because of an act that is symptomatic of that illness. In order to ensure that mentally ill individuals in custody are treated properly, the Governor has committed an additional $1 million for training programs for law enforcement to learn how to de-escalate and properly handle people with mental health issues. Additionally, the Governor's FY15 budget proposes to double the number of mental health specialty courts that often help divert mentally ill individuals into appropriate treatment programs, with judicial supervision, rather than automatically placing them in incarceration.
Reinvigorating the Sentencing Commission
In order to ensure that our sentencing laws are up to date in Massachusetts, the Governor has called for a renewal of the Sentencing Commission. Over the past several years, the Commission staff has been working with the Pew Center to gather extensive data on sentencing, and will use this data to bring a critical and data-based lens to the Commonwealth's sentencing practices, make Legislative recommendations and becoming a more useful reference for the Judiciary.
"The Department of Correction understands that the successful transition from prison to the community is a challenge. We embrace that challenge through this strategic plan that reinforces re-entry as the focal point of the agency's mission and remain committed to strengthening our re-entry continuum through innovation and partnerships," said Luis S. Spencer, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Correction.
"I am greatly heartened by the corrections-related initiatives that Governor Patrick has announced," said Suffolk County Sheriff Steven W. Tompkins. "His focus on ensuring that those in our respective facilities receive greater access to programming, substance abuse recovery assistance and post-release supervision can only help in our efforts to reduce the number of ex-offenders who recidivate and prepare them to live healthy, productive lives. Governor Patrick's proposed reforms of the CORI, Parole Board and Criminal Justice Commission can also have a significant effect on increased public safety across the Commonwealth."
Since taking office in 2007, Governor Patrick has proposed and implemented a comprehensive package of reforms aimed at dramatically improving the Commonwealth's criminal justice continuum, from sentencing to incarceration to reentry. The Governor signed legislation to toughen criminal sentences for repeat violent offenders while reducing mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug crimes and increasing the ability of inmates to earn "good time" for inmate program participation. Recognizing the importance of implementing tough but smart anti-crime measures, the Patrick Administration implemented comprehensive CORI reform legislation (enacted in 2010) to enhance employment and economic opportunities for citizens with criminal records and expand access to criminal record information for prospective employers and housing providers on an internet-based system. Increasing employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals can reduce their rate of recidivism.
To increase accountability, Governor Patrick signed legislation to ensure that the Parole Board was properly equipped with relevant expertise, training and a risk needs assessment tool to determine eligibility for parole. Beginning in 2011, the Parole Board created a number of evidence-based policies and practices designed to increase transparency about the Board's decisions and provide parole officers and Parole Board members with training and other tools to better facilitate appropriate inmate parole. In addition, established in the FY 2012 budget, the Criminal Justice Commission is currently reviewing over 29 recommendations to improve reentry, reduce overcrowding and strengthen post-release supervision. The Commission has also engaged the Pew Center for the States and the MacArthur Foundation to implement its cutting-edge cost-benefit analysis model called "Results First" to better inform Massachusetts criminal justice policies.