The Massachusetts Bar Association served as a co-sponsor for the Fourth Annual Massachusetts Criminal Justice Reform Coalition Policy Summit, "Moving comprehensive criminal justice reform to the top of the legislative agenda," on May 15, at the Omni Parker House in Boston.
The event coincided with the release of MassINC's latest criminal justice report "Getting Tough on Spending: An Examination of Correctional Expenditure in Massachusetts."
The report's executive summary highlights five key findings:
Despite a significant decline in the total number of individuals held in correctional facilities in recent years, spending on prisons and jails continues to rise.
Between FY 2011 and FY 2016, correctional spending grew faster than many other components of the Massachusetts state budget.
Growth in correctional spending has largely been driven by rising employee wages and new hiring.
With inmate populations declining and correctional facilities seeing potential cost savings, spending categories associated with recidivism and reduction did not increase significantly, and these services continue to represent a small fraction of total correctional expenditure.
There are large and growing disparities in correctional spending across agencies.
Keynote addresses were given by Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants and Representative Katherine Clark (D-Massachusetts 5th).
Introduced by MBA President Jeffrey N. Catalano, Gants spoke about both the financial and societal costs of incarceration.
"When persons commit crimes, we need to think carefully about whether those crimes are serious enough to require prosecution. And when they are, we need to think carefully about whether they require incarceration. And when they do, we need to think carefully about how much incarceration is required to deter, punish and protect the safety of the public, and impose no more than that amount of incarceration," said Gants.
Rep. Clark, who spoke earlier, also addressed the economic effects of incarceration.
"We need to look at the costs of incarceration and the economic impact that it has," remarked Clark. "We simply can't afford to continue to spend 80 billion dollars annually on incarcerating Americans."
The event also featured panel discussions on sentencing reform and reinvestment.
Other sponsors of the summit were the Coalition for Public Safety, Public Welfare Foundation, Alkermes, the Boston Foundation, the Shaw Foundation and Community Resources for Justice.