FY 2013 Budget Recommendation:
Issues in Brief
Deval L. Patrick, Governor
Timothy P. Murray, Lt. Governor
In the FY 2013 budget, the Governor proposes a comprehensive package of reforms that will dramatically improve the Commonwealth’s criminal justice continuum: from sentencing to incarceration to re-entry. This multifaceted approach will protect the public from violent offenders and advance positive outcomes for individuals who have re-entered society from incarceration.
In addition to the public safety benefits, there are financial benefits for these reforms for state government and its taxpayers. The Commonwealth cannot afford the status quo of mandating lengthy incarcerations for individuals charged with minor drug offenses or duplicative post-incarceration supervision. The status quo will force the Commonwealth to build 10,000 new prison bed-spaces by 2020 which would cost between $1.3 B and $2.3 B to build and an additional $120 M a year to operate. These reforms will reduce the costs of the criminal justice system and reduce crime at the same time.
The comprehensive package includes:
These reforms will improve public safety, reduce existing costs and avoid anticipated expenses associated with the growing prison population.
Without sentencing reform, the Commonwealth is limited in its ability to prepare inmates for re-entry into the community and to transition appropriate inmates to supervision, which is proven to provide better outcomes and reduce recidivism. Without the Re-entry and Community Supervision consolidation, the Commonwealth will not have a seamless continuum of services that will decrease criminal activity and victimization and reverse the extraordinary escalation of costs associated with duplication and inefficient administration of existing services. Without a plan for preparing inmates for re-entry, enhancing the use of post-release supervision and reducing our incarceration rate, the Commonwealth will have to abandon the targeted investment approach proposed by the Corrections Master Plan and begin to set aside $1.3 B to $2.3 B to build 10,000 new beds.
Incarceration-related costs are placing strain on state budgets across the country. Massachusetts is no exception. The Commonwealth spends approximately $47,000 per offender each year at the Department of Correction (DOC) and $38,000 per offender at county jails and houses of correction. State funding for DOC expenditures has increased by $125 M in the past decade, from $431 M in FY 2003 to $556 M in FY 2013 – a 29% increase.
Across the country, states are taking steps similar to those that Governor Patrick is proposing to improve outcomes for incarcerated offenders and lower corrections budgets. For example, to save an estimated $46 M by 2014, Governor John Kasich (R-Ohio) signed legislation last year to give more discretion to judges in minor felony cases and allow inmates to more quickly decrease the length of their sentence through earned credit programming.
The Patrick-Murray Administration proposes to make targeted operating and capital budget investments to improve re-entry and reduce recidivism by stepping incarcerated individuals back into society. In the current continuum, inmates on mandatory minimum sentences are often released from medium security DOC facilities into society without supervision or re-entry services, increasing the risk that they will commit new crimes. Other individuals are released under dual supervision of parole and probation, a duplicative, inefficient and ineffective approach to supervising offenders.
Between the Corrections Master Plan and the FY 2013 budget, the Governor proposes investing in re-entry:
The diagram below shows the current path that individuals may take through the criminal justice system. The Governor’s FY 2013 investments move the Commonwealth toward the proposed model continuum where inmates successfully participating in re-entry programs are transitioned through security levels to county pre-release settings and then into the Department of Re-entry and Community Supervision to best prepare them for re-entry and reduce rates of recidivism.
In 2011, Governor Patrick proposed legislation to toughen criminal sentences for repeat violent offenders while repealing mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug crimes. Mandatory minimum sentences deprive judges of the ability to determine the appropriate sentence based on the facts of the case and the offender’s criminal history. These policies often result in harsher and lengthier sentences, contribute to skyrocketing incarceration costs and contribute to racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
The House and Senate have both passed versions of habitual offender reform, and the Senate legislation includes mandatory minimum reform. The Patrick-Murray Administration continues to advocate for a balanced and comprehensive sentencing reform that:
Sentencing reform allows appropriate inmates to be stepped down into lower levels of security and community supervision. In FY 2013, the reform would allow an estimated 340 non-violent offenders under mandatory minimum sentences to be paroled and placed under community supervision.
The Commonwealth must close a prison to achieve savings associated with this reduction of incarcerated inmates. Without a prison closure, the Commonwealth will only save on items such as food or inmate health care, but it would still need to retain the same staffing levels for prison operation.
DOC will maintain its minimum security capacity to help transition and prepare the non-violent drug offenders who may receive parole supervision under sentencing reform for re-entry into the community.
The Corrections Master Plan is a blue print for the Patrick-Murray Administration’s strategy to address prison overcrowding and escalating costs to house and care for inmates, while building on the Governor’s comprehensive sentencing and supervision reform proposals. The plan includes recommendations for investing up to $550 M to upgrade existing facilities and add new beds over ten years, a portion of which is currently included in the Five-Year Capital Plan.
Rather than building new facilities to accommodate the 10,000 new beds that would be needed without sentencing reform, the Master Plan calls for capacity improvements in existing facilities to gain as many as 4,200 beds. To minimize the construction of new beds over the next ten years the Master Plan proposes the following strategic investments:
The Patrick-Murray Administration’s proposal to unify Probation and Parole under the Executive Branch in a new Department of Re-entry and Community Supervision (DRCS) will create a seamless continuum of services, decrease criminal activity and victimization, and reverse the extraordinary escalation of costs associated with duplication and inefficient administration of existing services within Probation.
By combining supervision of offenders in the community into one coherent organization, services and information sharing will be more efficient, accountable, effective and less expensive to administer. Furthermore, having all correctional responsibilities fall under the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security in the Executive branch (as it is in the vast majority of states) creates a seamless public safety system.
In July 2011, the Legislature passed legislation to standardize hiring rules for Probation Department officers and court officers to include testing, background checks, behavioral screening and proof that candidates have the minimum professional skills for the position. This legislation did not go far enough to address the waste and duplication currently at Probation. In contrast, Governor Patrick’s proposed legislation, “An Act Reforming Re-entry and Community Supervision of Criminal Defendants and Offenders to Strengthen Public Safety,” currently pending in the legislature, will unify Parole and Probation into one coherent organization, establish a clear offender accountability mechanism and reduce rates of recidivism, thereby saving millions of dollars in incarceration costs.
The Governor’s budget proposes to build on FY 2012 reforms to reduce the cost of indigent defense by $19.6 M from FY 2012 projected spending in the Commonwealth’s Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS), a judicial branch agency in the Commonwealth that is responsible for providing indigent defense. To more efficiently fund indigent defense, the Commonwealth reduced its high reliance on private bar advocates in favor of more cost-effective public defenders in FY 2012. This budget proposes to continue the promise of these reforms by again increasing public defender’s caseloads so that 50% of cases are performed by public defenders and 50% are performed by private bar advocates. These reforms, along with earlier efforts, will have achieved over $36.5 M in savings from FY 2011 spending.
The Governor’s FY 2013 budget also directs the new Department of Re-Entry and Community Supervision to enhance efforts to verify indigency of clients to prevent fraud in the system. As highlighted by the recent Auditor’s report on the Probation Department’s current indigency verification process, the Probation Department has performed verification at a rate of “near total non-compliance.” In a review of 119 cases, only 1.7% contained adequate documentation that court officials performed a required 60-day reassessment, and less than 1% had any evidence that a required six-month reassessment had been conducted. Furthermore, the report found they did not utilize the data and technologies the FY 2012 reform has afforded them to ensure indigency was being properly verified.
Given the Probation Department’s low compliance rate and the lack of written standards for verification, it is imperative to implement changes to the system to protect both the integrity of the indigent defense system and the spending of taxpayer dollars.
Established in the FY 2012 budget, the Criminal Justice Commission brings expertise from every stage of the criminal justice continuum to study a broad array of issues, including, but not limited to, parole and probation reform, sentencing guidelines, recidivism rates, prisoner classification systems and cost-effective corrections healthcare. While the Commission has made progress, the FY 2013 budget proposes to extend the life of the Commission so that it may effectively complete a report on legislative recommendations.
 Fields, Reginald. “Ohio Gov. John Kasich signs sentencing reform bill that favors rehab over prison for non-violent felons.” Cleveland Plain Dealer 29 June 2011: Web.