In the early 1990s, Massachusetts began a systemic effort to provide for more effective and efficient criminal justice sentencing and specifically address prison overcrowding. As a result, the OCC was established in 1996. The OCC is a division of the Office of the Commissioner of Probation.
In 1980 5,441 people were committed to county houses of correction in Massachusetts. By the end of the decade, the number of county commitments increased more than 150% to 13,721. At the state prisons, the number of people committed increased by more than 200% from 1,234 in 1980 to 3,794 in 1990. In 1997, county commitments peaked at 19,842.
In 1990, faced with a crisis affecting the criminal justice system, the Boston Bar Association (BBA) and the Crime and Justice Foundation convened a task force to study the prison overcrowding problem and make policy recommendations toward its resolution. While the BBA task force made no inquiry into the underlying cause of increased prison commitments, it characterized the problem as being a result of increasing incarceration rates, longer sentences, and jailing of substance abusers. The task force resolved that it would not be possible to “build our way out” of the problem. Among the recommendations it made were:
- Establish a sentencing commission to revise sentencing law, develop sentencing guidelines, and serve as principal author for future sentencing amendments
- Establish intermediate sanctions using the latest programmatic technologies
In recommending intermediate sanctions, the task force referred to the lack of options between probation and incarceration as a serious gap in the criminal justice system. The task force found that “there are many offenders for whom a sanction greater than probation is appropriate and others for whom prison is not appropriate.” The task force recommended intermediate sanctions that incorporate “supervision—through urinalysis, daily schedules and a regular reporting structure; accountability—through curfews and community service; and treatment—through substance abuse counseling, employment and training.”
Truth in sentencing
As a result of the public debate over criminal justice policy, the Massachusetts Legislature passed a series of reforms commonly referred to as “Truth in Sentencing” laws. Among these laws were statutes that established the Massachusetts Sentencing Commission and the OCC. The Massachusetts Sentencing Commission was charged with promoting truth in sentencing, proposing modifications of law for sentencing, and proposing sentencing guidelines that incorporate intermediate sanctions. The OCC was charged with development and implementation of intermediate sanctions.
Pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 211F, Section 2, Subsection (c) the executive director of the Office of Community Corrections shall work in consultation with the [sentencing] commission…to ensure consistency between sentencing guidelines and community corrections.
Intermediate Sanction Levels
The OCC adopted Intermediate Sanction Levels from the Massachusetts Sentencing Commission’s Report to the General Court, April 10, 1996 — “The commission... adopted the notion of a continuum of four levels of intermediate sanctions, based on the constraints on personal liberty associated with the sanction...” Community corrections centers are designed to facilitate the intensive supervision of offenders, delivering integrated services and sanctions which correspond to intermediate sanction levels 3 and 4.
Pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 211F, Section 3, Subsection (a) “Any court exercising jurisdiction is authorized to sentence any eligible offender to a community corrections program…” and that sentence is imposed, “…as a condition of probation…” Pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 211F, Section 4, Subsection (c) “…the resources of community corrections programs shall be utilized by the parole board for the purpose of parole supervision.”
Boston Bar Association/Crime and Justice Foundation: The Crisis in Corrections and Sentencing in Massachusetts, 1991
Crime and Justice Institute: Implementing Evidence Based Principles in Community Corrections: The Principles of Effective Intervention, 2004.
Massachusetts Department of Correction: New Court Commitments to Massachusetts County Facilities During 1990, 1992.
Massachusetts Department of Correction: New Court Commitments to Massachusetts State Facilities During 1990, 1992.
Massachusetts Department of Correction: Commitments to Massachusetts House of Correction During 1980, 1980.
Massachusetts Trial Court, Office of Community Corrections: Utilization of Community Corrections Centers, Statistical Report FY 2012, 2013.
National Institute of Drug Abuse: Principles of Drug Abuse Treatment of Criminal Justice Populations, 1999-2009.
Boston, MA 02108
|Last updated:||April 25, 2018|