Mass. Gov. Baker: Criminal Justice Reform Comes With A Price Tag

Apr 19, 2018

Implementing a massive criminal justice reform law signed last week will cost Massachusetts an estimated $15 million this fiscal year and as much as $40 million next year, according to Gov. Charlie Baker.

Baker signed the measure into law on Friday and that same afternoon filed a bill (H 4426) making both technical tweaks and what he called "significant modifications" to some of its provisions. That bill, which was referred to the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, also sets up a $15 million reserve within the Executive Office of Administration and Finance to fund the costs associated with the law.

"Virtually every aspect, in many respects, of the way we do corrections, parole, forensics are all going to be significantly and, in many cases, dramatically changed by this law," Baker said at a press conference Friday. "We want to meet those mandates, but to do so, in some cases, we'll need to hire new staff, purchase new equipment and software, update computer systems, and in some cases build new lab space."

In his filing letter to lawmakers, Baker wrote that his administration is still developing costs estimates for next year, but expects that the fiscal 2019 budget will need to contain up to an extra $40 million.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who joined Baker for the signing ceremony Friday, said then that financing for many of the measures has already been factored into the 2019 House Ways and Means budget teed up for deliberation next week.

"We're looking to move forward with the governor, the governor's office, in terms of places where money may be lacking," DeLeo said. "One of the things we did mention when we released our budget was the fact not only do we understand that hopefully the bill is going to get signed, but we provide enough financing to implement it, and implement it properly to make sure it works."

House leaders highlighted some of the criminal justice initiatives in the $40.98 billion spending plan they released last Wednesday, including $2.5 million for specialty court expansion, $5 million for substance use diversion programs, $500,000 for job training for ex-prisoners, $500,000 for Department of Correction re-entry programs, and $3 million for community-based re-entry programs.

Kathie Mainzer of Community Resources for Justice said the $3 million earmarked for community-based re-entry marks the first time a state budget proposal has included a line item for such programming.

"It's something that other states invest millions of dollars in that Massachusetts has not, so we really hope that now that this bill has passed...that we can now turn to what happens when people are rebuilding their lives," she said at a press conference criminal justice reform supporters held Friday.

Mainzer — whose organization runs halfway houses and residential reentry centers that provide transitional housing to give people released from incarceration a window to connect with permanent housing, health services and employment — said people often come out of prison or jail wearing the clothes they were arrested in, with no legal identification, job or place to live.

The law's backers have said its changes will reduce incarceration and recidivism rates, ultimately saving the state money. Thoe changes include the repeal of mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses, creation of a medical parole program and expansion of court diversion programs.

The law also changes the state's system for handling sexual assault evidence kits, charging public safety officials with developing a tracking system so that victims can follow the status of their kit through the testing and storage process. It mandates that all existing untested kits associated with a reported crime be submitted for testing within 180 days, and directs the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security to report annually on rape kits collected or received that year.

"These reforms are much welcomed," Boston Area Rape Crisis Center executive director Gina Scaramella said in a statement. "But the bill does not identify funding sources to ensure that resources are available to implement these reforms. The full system of response to and care of people who have experienced a sexual assault includes the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program, rape crisis centers, Children's Advocacy Centers, the Boston and state crime labs, and police and prosecutors offices. The system has historically been under-funded and we risk undermining the intent of these much-needed reforms if we do not also provide additional funding to additional resources to get this work done."

Rep. Bradley Jones, the House minority leader, filed a budget amendment that would dedicate $500,000 to create and operate a sexual assault evidence kit tracking system.

This report was originally published by State House News Service.