Chairman Costello, Chairman Timilty, and members of the Committee, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to testify before the Committee today. I am here in support of H. 2240, Resolve Establishing the Massachusetts Correction Commission. This bill, if enacted, will benefit the lives of citizens throughout our state.
Each year, approximately 20,000 inmates are released from prison back into each of our communities. If these individuals come out of prison unprepared for citizenship, we will all pay a substantial price. If ex-inmates are not prepared for the workforce, if they do not receive substance abuse treatment, if they do not receive proper mental health care and other health care services, if they are not prepared to access housing, and if they are not prepared to meet the responsibilities of parenthood and family life, we will all pay a substantial price.
If ex-inmates are not prepared for citizenship, the risk of recidivism will skyrocket. With high recidivism rates, we have more victims of crime, the business community suffers and taxpayers pay more for re-incarceration, higher police budgets, and the many other associated costs of crime.
This Commission is modeled after the highly successful Florida Correction Commission and the Department of Correction (DOC) Advisory Council that was established pursuant to the Massachusetts General Law from 1955 to 1996. The Commission would be composed by Administration officials, outside experts, and legislators who have expertise in a range of corrections and criminal justice areas.
While the Legislature is often the watch dog of the Administration, it cannot always perform its duties with the scrutiny needed to be effective. Correction issues are usually lumped into committees with plates already full of other critical issues. An external advisory board composed of experts in the field is required to ensure adequate DOC oversight. Moreover, this Commission would work with the DOC to make it a more effective state agency. We ask a lot of the DOC and its employees. We ask them to maintain custody over a large population of individuals. We also ask them to prepare inmates for life after prison – a task that cannot be underestimated in its complexity and necessity. A Commission of this nature will offer the DOC a professional, focused, and independent perspective on the Department’s strengths and weaknesses.
While we ask much of the DOC, we also provide it with an enormous budget allocation – more than half a billion dollars. Currently, the Massachusetts DOC operates 18 correctional institutions that include 10,000 individuals incarcerated in state correctional facilities and approximately 20,000 released individuals from correctional institutions. The citizens of our state have a right to have their tax dollars spent in the most efficient and productive way possible, but also looking to ensure that the state inmates who do return to the community have the appropriate and necessary services to be productive members of the community. And establishing a Commission will do just that—routine monitoring of the DOC’s fiscal situation and regular review of programs and services.
This legislation is more important than ever. We have more people moving from prison back to our communities than ever before. There is a growing consensus among the public and experts in the field that, while maintaining appropriate security, society has much to gain by doing more to prepare inmates for life after prison. We also face a difficult budgetary climate that requires us to ensure that state agencies, particularly those with large budgets and critical functions such as the DOC, are making the best possible use of taxpayer dollars.
A DOC Commission is also NOT a substitute or a limitation on the authority of this Committee or any legislator. The Legislature, along with the Governor, will always have the primary role in crafting statutory guidelines governing the DOC. However, a panel of specialists with different areas of expertise and specific knowledge of our communities that focuses exclusively on improving or maintaining the strength of DOC programs and operations would provide the DOC with an invaluable resource.
Many state agencies and the public now benefit from the activity of various advisory boards within our government. An agency with a mission as important as that of the DOC cannot afford to forgo opportunities to enhance its performance. Taxpayers cannot afford a vital state agency facing new challenges with less than complete access to information and advice that will make it more effective.
Thank you for your consideration on this important matter. I respectfully request that the Committee adopt a favorable report for H. 2240 as expeditiously as possible.