Protesters target justice system as Baker files bill to reduce recidivism

February 22, 2017 GMT

A new bill filed by Gov. Charlie Baker takes aim at the revolving door at many Bay State prisons and jails, where as many as two-thirds of ex-cons wind up back behind bars soon after hitting the streets.

“Prison is, as it should be, a punishment, but the people of Massachusetts are better served when more people exit the system as law-abiding and productive members of society,” Baker said at the unveiling yesterday of a long-awaited criminal justice reform report from the Council of State Governments Justice Center.

A small group of protesters repeatedly interrupted the press conference by shouting out what they dubbed inadequacies in the system followed by “What’s your plan?” and “Jobs not jail.” Each time, pols stood waiting for them to finish before continuing with the speaking program.

Baker touted the state’s incarceration rate, the second-lowest per capita in the nation, but noted two-thirds of people leaving houses of correction and more than half of those leaving Department of Correction facilities in 2011 were charged with new crimes within three years of their release.

In 2013, people with prior convictions were responsible for three-quarters of new sentences, the report said.

The bipartisan, multi-branch effort included Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg, House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo and Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants, among others.

The recommendations adopted in the bill include expanding support programs for inmates, streamlining the parole process, more funding for substance-abuse and work-training programs, and increasing post-release supervision. It also includes allowing non-violent and non-opioid drug offenders the chance to earn “good time credits” if they complete programs that reduce recidivism.

Rabbi Margie Klein Ronkin, one of the demonstrators from the Massachusetts Communities Action Network, said the steps were encouraging, but said there is still a need to tackle a number of issues.

“Addressing racial disparities,” she said, “ending mandatory minimums, looking at bail reform because almost half the people in our jail system have not been convicted of a crime, we are not addressing that yet.”