Reflections on criminal justice reform

A recent report found declines in Massachusetts incarceration, but no increase in crime, as a result of our end-to-end reform of the criminal justice system in 2018. Our goals in that reform were “to lift people up instead of locking them up and to cut the chains that hold people down when they are trying to to get back on their feet.” Between the new report and the recent announcement of the closure of the Concord prison which dates back to 1878, it feels timely to reflect on the results.

Legislators have to be especially humble in the criminal justice context — most of the big decisions get made by judges and other officials whom we necessarily clothe with great discretion. When we change the laws, their decisions may not change; they may just use different logic to justify their decisions. An example I’ll never forget goes back to my days as a young prosecutor. I was prosecuting a cocaine seller who faced a stiff sentence. The police had observed a hand-to-hand transaction and had arrested both the buyer and the seller. Search of their persons revealed cocaine on the person of the buyer, but no cocaine remaining on the person of the seller. The alleged seller chose a bench trial in front of a favorable judge who found him guilty only of possession, but not distribution. When I asked the judge afterwards how it was logically possible that the seller was not guilty of distribution if the seller had previously possessed the cocaine but now the buyer had it, the judge cautioned me: “I thought we were getting along very nicely.”

Bearing the reality of great executive and judicial discretion in mind, I see our 2018 reforms in three different categories:

  • Reforms that mathematically change the consequences of events that routinely occur. These reforms have predictable and immediate impact.
  • Reforms that order officials to manage programs differently or to implement new programs. Because most officials are law-abiding, these reforms can have big impact, but often these reforms take time and may founder on practical problems.
  • Reforms that create new rules affecting discretionary decisions. In this context, our reforms can send a message and contribute to a trend, but may or may not change results in any given case.

Reforms with predictable impact

Decriminalizing poverty

Although it doesn’t garner headlines, I derive greatest satisfaction from the reduction of fees and fines that we have achieved over the past decade in a series of bills. Nothing is more humiliating or engenders more bitterness and alienation than the ongoing extraction of money from people who have no money. Extraction is what set Ferguson aflame. As a defense attorney, my sense was that some of my clients might rather do more time inside than once again beg their grandmother for $50 to cover their monthly probation or parole fee. We have eliminated monthly probation fees and monthly parole fees. This eliminates a monthly burden on tens of thousands of our most down and out people. Anecdotally, surrenders of people on probation for non-criminal events appears to be down considerably, although this changes is as much the result of a change in probation leadership philosophy as it as a result of our legal changes.

We also made it easier to waive many other fines and decoupled various criminal court events from registry-of-motor-vehicle consequences — the tight link between court events and registry events could accelerate a down-spiral of unmet obligations that led to unnecessary incarcerations. For more, scroll to RMV license suspension in this post and see this related earlier legislation.

Accelerating release of prisoners

In 2018, we passed two big criminal justice bills: The main reform bill and an additional bill that was focused on reducing recidivism. One main theme of the second bill was to give prisoners stronger incentive to engage in rehabilitative programming by giving them more time off their sentence for successful participation. We increased the rate at which prisoners could earn good time off by 50% — from 5 days per program per month (maximum 10 per month) to 7.5 days per program per month (maximum 15 per month). The mathematics of this — based on current average program participation rates — work out to an approximately 5% reduction in prison population. The bill made additional adjustments which should contribute to modest additional reductions. To the extent the increased incentives lead to greater program participation and completion, the reductions may be greater.

Keeping children out of the system

Astonishingly, prior to 2018, children as young as seven could be charged with juvenile delinquency. Children that young are simply not responsible for their actions. They may need better support and parenting, but not supervision as delinquents. The 2018 reforms raised the minimum age of juvenile delinquency from 7 years old to 12 years old. This keeps several hundred very young children out of the system each year: 273 children under age 12 entered the system in 2017.

Additionally, we made clear that the charge of “disturbing a school assembly” should not be used to criminalize in-school misconduct by school children themselves. According to the Trial Court’s dashboard, there were 266 juvenile charges for disturbing a school assembly in FY2018, but none in FY2023. The reforms included other provisions oriented to assuring that the role of police in schools is to protect children from violence as opposed to serve as auxiliaries for routine discipline. The reforms included many other measures designed to improve treatment of children in the system.

Reforms requiring programmatic implementation

Improving conditions of confinement

In “restrictive housing,” prisoners see less of other prisoners, have less out-of-cell time, and have diminished privileges generally. (“Solitary confinement” is an obsolete and severe version of “restrictive housing.”) Restrictive housing may be used for punishment of offenses within the walls or to protect other prisoners and correctional officers. Our 2018 reforms reconceived the process by which prisoners enter and exit restrictive housing, with the goal that the number of prisoners in restrictive housing would radically decrease. It also mandated improved conditions in restrictive housing, especially improved access to programming which could lead to behavior change which might facilitate release from restrictive housing. These mandates and other mandates deriving from litigation have lead to a multiplication of new housing units within the department of correction. These new units provide a mix of different restriction levels and programmatic components. The complexity of the change has made it hard to quantitatively assess, but my sense from many conversations is that the changes have materially benefited prisoners — especially those with mental illness — and materially benefited the public by making prisoners more likely to be ready for safe release. These changes are still ongoing; our statutory mandates have resonated with what appears to broad shift in attitudes among correctional leadership, a shift towards a greater emphasis on rehabilitative programming.

Supporting Reentry

As we release more people to parole and/or probation, we also want to improve the supports available to them. In conversations about the legal reforms, it was stipulated that we also need to fund more re-entry services and re-entry funding has considerably increased over the past five years. I’ve been particularly focused on the conversion of the probation department’s Office of Community Corrections, which used to use a punitive supervision approach, into a general purpose support system for people who have had criminal justice involvement — connecting them to education, jobs, housing, and treatment. But this is just part of a larger picture: There at least half a dozen different programmatic line items related to re-entry and all of them are important.

Releasing terminally ill or incapacitated prisoners

Our 2018 reforms brought the concept of medical parole to Massachusetts. Our law now mandates the release of prisoners who (a) do not pose a risk to the public and (b) are either terminally ill or fully incapacitated. Implementing this law required the establishment of new petitioning and assessment procedures. The law has resulted in the release of a few dozen prisoners per year.

For the most part, the prisoners who become very infirm in prison are men who committed murders decades ago. Some feel that we should have broader release criteria and release anyone who is very infirm or elderly. This perspective was advanced with special urgency during the COVID epidemic in 2020 and 2021. Many more inmates applied for medical parole than met the strict criteria and some advocates have expressed disappointment with the program. However, it was a hard fought battle to write the law so that the criteria allow release for any people who have committed murder; many legislators continue to feel that anyone convicted of first degree murder should spend their remaining natural life in prison.

Sealing criminal records

People who become involved with the criminal justice system often find that their criminal record is a barrier to finding housing or employment. Our criminal justice reforms in 2018 included many significant reductions in the visibility and consequences of criminal records. Many of these changes have direct and immediate impact. However, what I believe to be the most significant change is little understood and depends on technology and record-keeping changes which have been only partially implemented even today, six years after the legislation.

When a person is arrested in Massachusetts, the police send their fingerprints immediately to the FBI’s national database. The prints persist indefinitely in that database together with the name of the person arrested and the offenses for which they were arrested. They persist regardless of the disposition of the court case in Massachusetts, even if the case was dismissed or tried to verdict of not guilty. They persist even if the case is sealed or expunged in Massachusetts and they will be discovered by any employer conducting a fingerprint-based background check. This reality has created a perception that sealing does not work; that somehow sealed Massachusetts court records remain visible. In fact, sealed court cases are truly sealed; the problem has been that the federal records persist. The good news is that if so instructed, the FBI will seal or expunge fingerprint records — the real problem was that Massachusetts had no mechanism for forward sealing or expungement orders to the FBI.

Our 2018 legislation requires the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services to transmit sealing or expungement orders to the FBI for parallel action in the federal database. This is, however, easier said than done. In order for the FBI to seal a fingerprint record, the record must be identified by the number created at the time the prints were created; sending a name and date is not enough. The challenge is to assure that the appropriate tracking number be preserved as part of the court records so that the sealing order can be transmitted by computer. The volume is too great to be handled manually. The teams involved in managing criminal and court records have been chipping away at the challenge, both by creating new systems and by running retroactive matching programs. In response to my inquiry in December 2023, the Department of Public Safety stated that to date 8,176 records had been sealed at the FBI level. This shows progress, but also shows that much more work needs to be done — the volume of cases sealed is far greater.

Reforms subject to official discretion


Our 2018 reform created multiple new pathways for both juvenile and adult cases to be diverted to restorative justice, treatment, or other programming. Police, prosecutors, and judges were given new options for handling less serious cases in ways more likely to lead to healing than traditional supervision or incarceration. Diversion depends on the actual availability of good alternative programming and there is evidence that lack of program alternatives limited the initial use of the new diversion powers. Diversion also depends on creativity, initiative, and awareness on the part of defense attorneys. I do have the sense from multiple anecdotes and news stories that there has been considerable progress in diverting cases, but I am not aware of a comprehensive longitudinal study of the increased diversion resulting from our reforms — the impact is hard to quantify because there was both formal and informal diversion before our reforms and because, quite intentionally, diversion often means the prevention of the creation of a criminal record.

Bail Reform

While negotiations were underway towards our 2018 reforms, the Supreme Judicial Court handed down the the very significant Brangan decision which required judges to recognize that bail amounts should vary depending on the economic resources of the defendant. Bail should be set so that people can make bail if they are reasonably likely to return to court. In our reforms, we took Brangan a step further and added that before setting unaffordable bail because of concerns about the defendant’s reappearance, the judge should consider “why the commonwealth’s interest in bail or a financial obligation outweighs the potential adverse impact on the person, their immediate family or dependents resulting from pretrial detention.” In other words, the court should not be so officiously concerned about its own case disposition statistics that it would incarcerate defendants pre-trial without very good cause.

The Brangan decision together with our additions — to the extent they are pressed by defense attorneys and followed by judges — should keep pre-trial incarceration down to an appropriate minimum. While some believe that bail should be abolished, I do not: people should have a right to pledge as much as they are able to in order to achieve their pre-trial freedom. There is no good alternative. In the absence of the ancient right to bail, judges will still make decisions to hold people to assure their return to court and there is no reason to believe these decisions will be more favorable to accused people. The important ideas are that bail should usually be affordable to the particular accused person and that unaffordable bail should not be set without carefully considering the balance between the importance of resolving the case and the harm of any period of incarceration. These ideas are now firmly enshrined in law.

Additionally, our reforms expand the availability of pre-trial services designed to help defendants start getting their life together before they resolve their court case. These services benefit the defendant and also increase the probability that the case will be resolved. The overall impact of this cluster of reforms is impossible to disentangle from changes in other variables — COVID-19, crime rates, court backlogs, etc. — but the pre-trial incarcerated population is down 16% (comparing January 2018 to January 2024) and I do understand that the use of pre-trial services has increased.

Minimum Mandatory Sentences

Among the hardest fought elements of our reforms were our reductions in drug mandatory minimum sentences. Most of these reductions were debated heavily in the House and/or the Senate. The outcomes of proposed amendments both to extend and reduce our proposed reforms indicated that our reductions in mandatory minimums represented the outer limit of what could be accomplished in 2018.

It does appear that our mandatory minimum changes have had a significant impact on incarceration for drug offenses. While the criminally sentenced population in the state prisons declined by roughly 1/3 from January 2018 to January 2022, the share of people incarcerated on mandatory drug sentences declined by almost 2/3. The mandatory drug sentenced population was 10% of the total in 2018 but only 5% in 2022. Similarly, the Suffolk County Sheriff reported a sharp decline in admissions attributed in part to the reductions in mandatory minimums.

The theme of our reforms was to abolish minimum mandatory sentences for retailing offenses. We distinguished between retailers, who are usually either users or low level neighborhood gang members, and wholesalers, who may be significant organized-crime players. After our reforms, the only commonly applicable mandatory minimum for retailers is the second-offense minimum for repeat distributors of opiates (heroin and fentanyl).

Most significantly, between the reforms of 2012 and the reforms of 2018, we dramatically narrowed what for a couple of decades was the most common mandatory minimum drug charge — dealing on or near on a school property. We first reduced the distance from 1000 feet to 300 feet and then provided that the charge would only apply in certain rare types of cases — violence, managing other dealers, sales to minors. The trial court’s dashboard shows only 5 cases where this was the lead charge in Fiscal 2023, while there were previously thousands of such cases each year. (I conducted a study of the school zone charge in the late 90s which highlighted its ineffectiveness in pushing dealing away from schools.)

Although the conceptual narrowing of the school zone charge was radical and the resulting decline of school zone charge prevalence dramatic, it is worth remembering that school zone charges were almost always dropped anyway. They were usually only a bargaining chip and prosecutors generally have other bargaining chips that they could use — notably indictment in superior court for second offense dealing. Without much deeper study, we cannot claim with certainty that our reforms are the primary moving cause of the reduction in drug-sentenced population. Changes in police, prosecutorial, and judicial attitudes, perhaps reinforced by the message of our reforms, may be the most fundamental moving force. As we concluded our post in 2018: “The bottom line is this: Removing mandatory minimum sentences will tend to move average sentences downwards for a particular category of offense, but the amount of the decrease is impossible to confidently predict and will vary from county to county.”

Justice as healing

The recent retrospective report concluded that incarceration in Massachusetts had fallen distinctly since 2018 without generating an increase in crime. Those are welcome findings, but I believe the impact of our reforms is much broader than the incarceration statistics reflect. The reforms have contributed to concrete impacts on the lives of tens of thousands of individuals involved in the criminal justice system, many of whom never faced the possibility of incarceration — hopefully, some have experienced “justice as healing” instead of counter-productive supervision and punishment. That is where we wanted to go to the greatest degree possible. Our reforms were as bold, comprehensive, and far-reaching they could be in 2018.

The reason we could make those reforms was that there was a broad awareness that the criminal justice system was not always doing justice and often did more harm to individuals than absolutely needed to protect the public. That broad awareness was shared not only by people experiencing the system and their advocates but by many criminal justice system professionals with the power to make change through their day-to-day work. Our reforms should be seen as both the product of and a contribution to a broad movement for change. Hopefully, we have collectively struck the right balance and we will not see the pendulum swing back hard as it did in the seventies: So far, crime remains down and support for rehabilitative programming remains strong.

One additional benefit of the reform legislation was the additional impetus it gave to improved transparency. Today, the public can monitor some aspects of criminal justice reform progress through the new correctional populations dashboard as well as the trial court’s charges dashboard and the probation department’s dashboard. The reforms also included new oversight commissions whose observations and recommendations continue to influence debate.

For me now, the main questions are (a) what are the community-based strategies that will do the most to lower crime in the communities that are still hard hit; (b) how should we structure our correctional system so as to make the best use of resources and to continue the increased emphasis on rehabilitative programming. More on these issues to come.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

47 replies on “Reflections on criminal justice reform”

  1. Thanks as always, Will, I will digest this at leisure. Just a quick note on the Concord prison–the admin. building outside it may date back to 1878, but the thing shown in the aerial was built fifty years or so ago, and (along with UMass Boston) was a poster child for the Ward Commission report on what was wrong with the state’s design and construction processes at the time. The imposing wall and guard towers you see around it, for example, weren’t necessary (it was and I think still is a medium security facility) but were built at the request of the then-Sheriff, as a sort of prestige item I guess, more like a real prison or something . . .

    1. Oh my gosh, is that why it looks so intimidating??? I remember seeing that when visiting a friend in Concord when I was new to the area back in 2004 or so. I hope they find a way to make the architecture less hostile if they aren’t tearing down the building.

  2. This is an impressive analysis of significant changes. I hope that it leads to renewed efforts to continue moving towards the “Justice as healing” vision. Thank you senator.

  3. As an economic historian and research writer of “King Arthur Flour, the oldest flour company in America”, and a 7th generation Bostonian, I agree that our greatest threat is a repeat of the 1970’s.
    While this report is a breath of fresh air, we clearly have a long way to go yet in creating a just society where one and all can live, learn and grow in safety. I am very concerned about the age level that we consider one responsible for their actions and the disparity with the legal rights of an individual at any age in regard to control over one’s healthcare and the use of that information by government oversight systems, especially in regard to mental health reports. Holding individuals against their will, when no criminal charge has been leveled and proved true, is abuse.

  4. Other factors contributed to the drop on prisoners such as the work by Roca, Utech and Legacy Lives On and other organizations. Attributing the drop in prison population solely to the reform bill is not corrrct.

    I think a very small percentage of the DOC budget is spend on programs, so I question the effect of DOC programs on the reduction in prison population.

  5. These are great moves in the right direction. Thank you, Will! Can you tell me where you stand (if it’s in here and I missed it, apologies!) on the proposed new women’s prison?

    1. I’m all about closing unnecessary prisons. And I think DOC wants to also. They have closed Walpole and announced the closure of Concord. This is real progress. And it will continue: few young people want to be correctional officers these days and it’s hard to staff prisons. I think DOC’s motivation is to close facilities and consolidate wherever possible.

      I don’t support language that would prevent DOC from building a smaller, more humane, special-purpose facility in some cases where they close down other facilities. I don’t have a specific position on how best to house the very small (under 200) population of women, although I am pretty convinced that keeping Framingham open is not the way to go.

  6. We must never forget that one of the world’s deadliest cancer is American drug consumption. Every illicit drug transaction is a culpable act in a web of mass murder and death. While some companies are ‘Too Big to Fail,’ the moral culpability of illicit drug use is ‘too great to recognize.’

    I don’t believe people should be stigmatized for being addicted, but there is a moral blindness to the harms of illicit drug use beyond the inner city or whatever the acceptable, cleansing, term of art people are using these days.

    The massive amounts of cocaine use in in the home dens of lawyers and judges (and commonly dipped into by their kids) and the elite suites in NYC and California mansions has suppressed the conversation of the moral dimension of drug use and impact abroad.

    Btw-Is U.S. drug policy effectively putting cartels to work to keep areas of our hemisphere fallow-helping exclude socialistic and communistic ideologies inroads, or is it serving our adversaries?

    Never forget that Beacon Hill capriciously opposed the will of voters who legalized marijuana with a cash grab jacking up the tax on weed-what? five-fold?

    I applaud criminal justice reform and the hard work of Senator Brownsberger, but there are strains of thought and varieties of corruption, self-dealing, opacity and rationalizations for jumping this or that Faustian bargain with both feet here in Massachusetts that are wholly morally bankrupt as best I can tell which I fear will leave the state not only vulnerable to future swings of the pendulum, but are sowing structural deficiencies into most of our institutions public and private.

  7. Very impressive, Ie your interest in, and knowledge of the states laws.
    A lady with an autistic son was being evicted from a public housing property. In court she had to represent herself, because the MA Court Clerk offered her no free attorney. And free legal services were not quick enough to offer. Sad

  8. In considering changes in recent years which are working toward criminal justice, let’s look at, and applaud, Restorative Justice, which many police departments have adopted and where volunteer citizens have been trained to listen, and assist, first time offenders to acknowledge the harm they have caused in the presence of the person who was harmed, and thus avoid a criminal record and incarceration.
    Thank you, Sen Brownsberger for your encouraging work!

  9. Congratulations Will,
    The data indicate that all your hard work towards achieving criminal justice reform, that I first heard about as far back as 2012 or 2013, has led to positive results that far exceed my, (and I imagine most everyone else’s), expectations. I know you had many allies and partners in this work, but I strongly believe that it could not have succeeded to this degree without your vision, perseverance, and leadership.
    Congratulations and thank you.

  10. Oh, Clintonian Triangulation, what hath ye wrought?!

    Criminal justice reform. I don’t know enough to say if criminal justice reform is akin to holding a picnic and taking credit for the sunshine. When the rain comes who will rescue us from the stormwater?

    Before the three Starbuck’s in Harvard Square disappeared, the employees were on the spot for either rousting the junkies nodding off and monopolizing the bathrooms themselves, or calling CPD to do it for them.

    1. Now there are no Starbuck’s, or affordable places for people to hang in Harvard Square after a movement to appropriate and socialize the firm’s private property and make them into public spaces with no purchase necessary and Howard Schultz’s pathetic “third space” solution pushed him out of the political sphere and now there are no Starbuck’s in many places. The economy is part, but not all of the reason for that.

  11. Thank you for the update and reflections, Senator Brownsberger. I appreciate the metric-driven results that provide a strong backing for your conclusions. It appears that although there are always challenges, many of these reforms are bearing quality fruit. Keep up the excellent work!

    I will ask a question of my own ignorance. As a lay person, there seems to be a disconnect between two points here. You outline the successes of decriminalizing poverty, yet you state later that you are not in favor of abolishing bail. Both of these are well defended, but they seem at odds. Are these not two sides of the same coin or are there significant differences in the financial states of those facing parole versus those facing bail? Would love to hear your thoughts.

    Thank you!

  12. What a wonderfully informative and thoughtful report, Will. Thank you for it, and for doing such a great job on multiple fronts–criminal justice reform very much included.

  13. 1) Suspect in Texas massacre had been deported 4 times after entering US illegally, ICE source says:

    2) Alvin Bragg Under Fire for Releasing Migrant Suspects Who Attacked Cops:

    3) Videos: Burglars ransack businesses during night of mass looting in Philly:

  14. Is the de-backyarding of the eyesore MCI-Concord legal? Will it result in dead prisoners and guards?

  15. Thank you, Senator, for this report and all the explanations of the legislation, requirements, goals, and partial results to date. Very informative, and hopeful.

  16. A good summary and certainly it is good to see people encouraged to get on their feet and not endlessly punish for wrongs done while young or while on drugs (to a certain degree). As long as we don’t devolve to something extreme – which I don’t see here – I am for it. There are I am sure, many nuances in the laws that if reviewed, I would want to see a bit different. But as long as (as one example you stated) young kids aren’t railroaded to jail by default etc and at the same time, real serious criminals are incarcerated for public safety first (rehabilitation second), we will be in a decent place.

  17. Thank you, Will, for this informative report and all you have done on behalf of prison reform. Now that we have a greater understanding that levels of crime are not related to onerous penal provisions I look forward to more focus on community rehabilitation and restorative justice, a shrinking Department of Corrections, and fewer prisons in Massachusetts. May I suggest that we start with—once again—passing a moratorium on new prison construction, which I believe Governor Healey will sign this time around.

    1. Hi Paul,
      Science has been saying for quite a while that our brains don’t reach maturity until age 25.
      And criminologists have said, therefore, that criminal acts committed by persons under 25 should be treated more leniently.
      This is regarded as a huge advance in criminal justice and a way to empty our prisons.
      But NOW science says the brain is not mature until age 30.
      Maybe we shouldn’t penalize or imprison anyone under 30.
      Maybe people in Will’s district can come up with some solution for criminals under 30.
      Any ideas?

  18. Thank you, Will, for all this very useful information. It shows a lot of welcome progress. I thumbed through the dashboards you referenced to see if I could find any info that would help me understand the job prospects and successes of returning citizens. Didn’t see anything. My interest is in helping returning citizens in communities of color in Boston to find jobs, especially good jobs. Is there a related data source you could guide me to?

  19. Is the MBTA Communities Action Plan constitutional?

    Did voters see this on any ballot?

    Will it increase crime?

    Chicago emptied the projects and spread people around to houses and that was helpful.

    Is the MBTA Communities Action Plan a scheme to get people out of certain areas for the purposes of gentrification?

    1. Hi Fred,
      The MBTA housing plan is sort of like the Democrats’ plan to let millions of illegal aliens come over the US’s southern border.
      It’s to create demographic change that will benefit the Democrats electorally when the illegals become citizens, as they surely will as soon as the Democrats firmly control Congress and the White House.
      My question is, why isn’t Will’s district building MORE housing, schools, and medical facilities for the many thousands of illegals in and coming to the district?
      No one seems to be planning for the illegal immigrants, just the people who are already citizens.
      And I still don’t understand why Will’s constituents have not opened their home to the illegals in Boston shelters, per Gov. Healey’s request.

      1. Dee … What world do you live in, where do you get these ideas? The Democrats have no “plan” to let millions of aliens over the US southern border. You have been seriously misinformed. Both Democrats and Republicans have a problem with all this immigration. And it was the Republicans who killed the most recent bi-partisan attempt at a solution.

      2. There may be some truth to the demography angle, but Democrats are mostly appeasing the egos of so called Progressives. The GOP was gaining ground on hispanic voters and the MAGA Party is inheriting some of that. The GOP’s skeleton crew will hang in there until our fellow Americans in the MAGA Party see the treasonous and criminal cabal around Bannon’s et al’s ‘useful idiot’ implodes when the scales fall from their eyes.

  20. “Decrease in crime?” Really? Of course, when District Attorneys fail to indict breakers of the law, one generates statistical decrease in crime; several other States claim the same. This Commonwealth, and once great country will reap the whirlwind. With a $34 trillion debt,(you fill in the unsaid finish)_______________________________________________.

  21. Thanks Will for this informative report. However, reform needs much more work. On medical parole many who are terminally ill, who are NOT lifers, are denied and left to die. Solitary has been transformed into new secure units where complaints abound, neglect is seen and education is lacking. Massachusetts has a lower percentage in our prisons but they are mostly Black and Brown with our state having one of the highest percentages of Hispanics in our system despite a low number in our communities. We have the highest percentage of elderly people in our prisons than any other state with our prisons turning into nursing homes at tax payers expense despite the fact that senior citizens do not have a high rate of committing crime if released. As our prison population has dropped by fifty percent since 2012 the Dept. of Corrections budget grows every year with now nearly 3000 corrections officers for 5900 incarcerated people. Time for outside oversight of the DOC and to release those who no longer present a danger so that those left can get education, programs and training. Since nearly ninety percent of those in our prisons are going to get out and be our neighbors, it’s time to be sure they come out ready and not worse than when they went in which is what many have said is what happened to them inside.

  22. People up until the age of 26 should be in a Youth Court for Emerging Adults rather than in an Adult Court.
    The 50 Million set aside for the prison for women should be spent on reducing the reasons for incarceration – bad schooling, bad healthcare, bad housing, and NO JOBS!
    More money needs to be spent on programing, education, job training, mentoring, counseling.
    More formerly incarcerated people need to be involved in the planing for those who are incarcerated and those whose sentence is coming due and those who are finally leaving the system.
    AND more counseling for the victims of crimes as well.

  23. Thank you for these insights and reflections and all your reform efforts. I agree with others that I hope to see even more progress and a heightened focus on community rehabilitation and restorative justice.

  24. Thank you Senator Brownsberger for all your efforts to reform the criminal justice system. Most of what I read here is welcome news. I would like to know what progress is being made to keep people with mental health challenges out of the criminal justice system. There is much evidence that people with mental illness are less violent than the general population and are far more likely hurt themselves than others; however they make up a large percentage of incarcerated people. According to the Americans Psychiatric Association, over 40% of those incarcerated in American prisons have a mental health disorder. Can we look forward to some good news from Massachusetts in this regard?

  25. Thank you, Will, for sharing this very thorough and encouraging report. It reflects your deep commitment to reforms that benefit the people who are incarcerated, and the communities from which they come and to which they will return, and the taxpayers in MA. Your reflections are interesting regarding what was actually possible in 2018, implying that there may be hope for more beneficial reforms in the future. I think I have previously shared with you the report on YouthBuild’s re-entry program called Life After Lock-up, that resulted in just a 1% recidivism rate. Given the right opportunities, incarcerated people will most often move into becoming productive, contributing citizens, and I am glad you are in the Senate working to create these opportunities.
    Warm regards,

  26. The Brangan decision is good; however it is not yet fully implemented. It would have been great for this to happen in 2017 when the SJC ruled but it didn’t. It is not too late. In order for it to take full effect, DAs, ADAs, defense lawyers and judges must be educated as to what it is and the positive impact it can have keeping people held pre-trial.
    I wholeheartedly agree with Mary Valerio’s comments on the aged and ill prison population. “Medical parole” sounds good; but Commissioner Mici has been a huge obstacle to its implementation.
    As I am sure you know Senator, only 2% of almost $800 million is spent on all programs. In order for meaningful programs to be available to everyone who is incarcerated, there needs to be a real investment in up-to-date vocational training (not sewing flags) and adult basic education. 3,000 (out of about 5,600 people) on a waiting list for these necessary programs is criminal.
    Finally, the DOC and the sheriffs need to finally provide the data called for on the CJRA. The sheriffs have finally started but the DOC lags far behind. Without data, there is no transparency and no accountability. Both in short supply.

  27. Sometime in a land (time) far away, there was the start of privatization of prisons for profit. Enter Will Brownsberger.. and others who see through the elusiveness ambiguities of this charade..

  28. I appreciate this report and the work you put into it!
    I also support the moratorium on new prison construction. We could put that money towards better use, and a reasonable bill could still allow for necessary spending on existing facilities.
    When it comes to restorative justice, researchers find that the best way of reducing crime is a multitude of community programs. It won’t be one answer, it will be many that work in tandem to catch as many vulnerable or at risk people as possible. I was sad to see the reduced budget that passed this summer, especially after so many people voted for the millionaire tax as a ballot measure, because I think that money could have done a lot of good in the kinds of local programs that build community and reduce crime.

  29. Hi Senator,

    Thank you for sharing this piece and for your ongoing support of community-based reentry.

    The Commonwealth has been a strong partner on implementing best practices in the reentry world, and we sincerely appreciate the funding support that has allowed us to serve more clients than ever before. I shared your piece with my reentry team and asked them to consider your questions around strategies that will lower crime in our hardest hit communities and how we can restructure our correctional system to emphasize rehabilitative programming.

    Our answer is clear: Through years of research and practice, we know that high quality, community-based reentry providers provide the best approach needed to reduce recidivism. Supporting returning citizens is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and being able to be nimble while allowing someone to adjust to life in the community makes all the difference. We also strongly support increasing the use of cognitive-behavioral type interventions with justice-involved individuals and making sure we match the right resources to the right people.

    We are always here as a sounding board and partner. Thanks for your outreach, and I look forward to more collaboration in this new year.

    Deborah M. O’Brien
    President & CEO Community Resources for Justice

  30. “….(a) what are the community-based strategies that will do the most to lower crime in the communities that are still hard hit; (b) how should we structure our correctional system so as to make the best use of resources and to continue the increased emphasis on rehabilitative programming[?]” -Senator Brownsberger

    (a) 1. Give parents more information and responsibility to control their children’s social media use and consequences for the commission of crimes using devices. 2. As it was after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine where U.S. media companies could no longer tolerate and profit from platforming the Russian Times (RT) long known as the Kremlin propaganda arm, so to with 10/7 must stop profiting off analogous situation with Al-Jazeera media which is equally causing injury to our country. 3. Teach civics. 4. Everybody play by the same rules. 5. Tbd

    1. 5. Stop normalizing criminal behavior in general and a specific, relatively mild example: It’s not ok to stalk behind someone on the T and invade their personal space with questionable intent and sometimes bump into them in order to use a paying customer to thieve a ride.
      6. There should be enough good paying jobs and wealth equality for kids to ride the T without the stigma of being in a neighborhood where there are proposals for literal welfare bus lines. These are not free bus lines it’s welfare and it’s wrong.

      1. I’m not saying welfare is an absolute wrong, but making kids ride on the “poor buses” is messed up and normalizing socialism is messed up and injurious to democracy and the republic.

  31. A lot has happened since 2018. During the Regan-Clinton era society closed care facilities and threw our sick onto the streets and prisons took up the slack. Hopefully, these reforms can get people care and repair family and civil life. Now we have EDP and homeless living on T platforms and Cambridge Common and in the wetlands between the Fitchburg Cutoff and the posh developments and under bridges. The contractors who work the T need training as mental health counsellors and have to spend their time policing for vagrants and keeping people from smoking.

    Also, were not preparing our youth for resiliency, but stroking their egos.

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