The MassCJRC Journal

A Monthly Newsletter from the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Reform Coalition
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Ready for Reform? New report on public opinion says yes.
A couple months ago, we announced the preliminary findings of our research into public opinion on criminal justice here in Massachusetts. Today we are proud to present the full report on that work.


Massachusetts residents support reforming the criminal justice system to send fewer to prison, and overwhelmingly support a package of reforms similar to those enacted in other states.


In fact, most see the current prison system as a contributor to crime rather than a deterrent: 59 percent think released inmates are more likely to reoffend due to being hardened in prison, compared to just 28 percent who think they are less likely to offend.


Those are a few of the major findings contained in Ready for Reform? Public Opinion on Criminal Justice in Massachusetts, released today by MassINC and The MassINC Polling Group. This full report expands on the findings released at an event with Governor Deval Patrick in February.


"The public sees a broken system that seems to be making some problems worse" said Steve Koczela, President of The MassINC Polling Group. "Voters are looking for a real shift in the way we approach criminal justice in Massachusetts."


Among the findings contained in the full report:

  • Two-thirds (67 percent) of residents prefer reforming the system so that fewer people are sent to prison over building more prisons (26 percent). This is a major shift since MassINC examined this issue in 1997, when two-thirds supported a new 1,000 bed prison.
  • Residents think reforms like job training and pre-release programs, diverting drug users and the mentally ill to treatment instead of prison, and increasing post-release supervision would be more effective at reducing crime than more punitive measures.
  • By more than a 2-to-1 margin, residents are more likely to perceive drug use as a health problem (64 percent) than a crime (24 percent). Seventy-eight percent would consider early release for drug users, and 83 percent think sending drug users to treatment instead of prison would be effective at reducing crime.
  • Only 11 percent say mandatory minimum sentences are the preferred sentencing mechanism when presented with three options. Far more prefer judges either use sentencing guidelines (44 percent) or determine sentences on a case-by-case basis (41 percent).

These and other findings are largely consistent with recent national and state polls by the Pew Center on the States, which found that majorities favor shifting resources from incarceration towards alternatives.


The poll and four focus groups were commissioned by MassINC as a follow-up to its 2013 report Crime, Cost, and Consequences: Is it Time to Get Smart on Crime?, which made the case for Justice Reinvestment, an agenda of evidence-based reforms to lower prison populations and save money while reducing crime.


"Our study from last year and this new national report make it clear that what we've been doing in criminal justice is not working," said Greg Torres, President of MassINC. "This new research on public opinion shows that the public understands that as well. Residents want to see a change."


The report was made possible through the generous support of the Shaw Foundation, The Boston Foundation, the Public Welfare Foundation and individual donors.  

GregTorresGrayBG 2
Greg Torres
President, MassINC
Publisher, CommonWealth


In the News

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announces new guidelines for granting clemency to non-violent drug offenders, a move expected to expand the pool of applications being considered for Presidential action.


Massachusetts updates their police training approach to be more conscious of the challenges facing mentally ill offenders.


A new prison reform bill was introduced to the Colorado House of Representatives that could improve reentry integration and programs for adult offenders.


Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear signs a package of juvenile justice reforms into law. The reforms aim to overhaul the juvenile justice system and provide a softer approach.


Massachusetts Attorney General candidate Warren Tolman emphasizes the importance of rehabilitation in his criminal justice plan for Massachusetts.


The Boston Globe reports on a rally held by the Coalition for Jobs not Jails, calling on legislators to turn their attention to unemployment challenges rather than prison construction. A Globe columnist labels the United States' penal system as a "national disgrace."


The New York Times examines the United States' obsession with punishment and the origins of the American dependence on mass incarceration.


A Wall Street Journal op-ed advocates for prison reform, citing as a signal for change the shocking statistic that nonviolent offenders make up 90 percent of the federal prison population.


The PBS public affairs documentary series aired a two-part special examining solitary confinement and mass incarceration. Both episodes can be viewed online.  

From the Researchers

A new National Research Council report examines the skyrocketing incarceration rates in the United States over the past four decades. The report outlines the enormous financial costs of maintaining the world's largest prison population and the disproportionate impact on poor and minority communities.


The Hamilton Project issued a strategy paper on the economic realities related to crime and incarceration trends within the United States, examining the social and fiscal implications on both taxpayers and the imprisoned.


University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Alice Goffman's new book, On the Run, explores the impact on everyday life in poor urban neighborhoods of the current policing efforts that revolve around fear and surveillance.


The Massachusetts Criminal Justice Reform Coalition is a group of prosecutors, corrections practitioners, defense lawyers, community organizers, and businessmen and women working together to reform the Massachusetts criminal justice system. MassINC supports the work of the Coalition with research, polling, communications and outreach.

11 Beacon Street, Suite 500
Boston, MA 02108


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