In The Massachusetts Criminal Justice Debate, A Question Of Investment

Oct 26, 2017

The Massachusetts Senate on Thursday begins debate on criminal justice legislation designed to reduce the number of people incarcerated. But there's uncertainty over what it means for the state budget.

The think tank MassINC is generally supportive of the Senate bill. But its research director, Ben Forman, said one thing is missing: reinvestment. That would mean taking money saved from having a smaller prison population, and spending it on programs to help keep people from re-offending.

"The bill doesn't mandate that that happens," Forman said. "And so there's some uncertainty about whether we will truly reinvest those dollars in evidence-based programs."

State Senator William Brownsberger, the bill's sponsor, said he supports those kinds of investments, but doesn't think it's practical to require them in this legislation.

"There's just way too much hand-waving and guesswork involved to say, 'Oh, you saved this much as a result of this change, and therefore it should be moved to a different place,'" Brownsberger said.

Even so, a group of lawmakers, including State Senator Eric Lesser of Longmeadow, introduced an amendment to reserve half the savings for community-based jobs programs. View that amendment below.

Also see NEPR's interview with Brownsberger as debate on the bill gets underway.