Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Cutting the Cost of Criminal Justice: Programs that reduce Recidivism

Because inmates released from prison are prone to reoffending and returning to prison, post release supervision is an invaluable asset to the Criminal Justice Department, the community, and the inmate. Nevertheless, the 1994 “truth-in-sentencing” legislation resulted in greater number of Massachusetts offenders serving out the majority of their sentences, ineligible for parole, and released into the community without parole supervision (Brooks…et al, 2005). For example: In 2002, there were 2,630 releases from the Massachusetts Department of Correction (Brooks…et al, 2005). Of those, one third of had been sentenced for a crime against a person, one quarter for drug offenses, and nearly all had at least one prior conviction (Brooks…et al, 2005). Yet only one-third (33%) of those released received parole supervision and the majority (67%) were released into the community either unsupervised or under probation supervision (Brooks…et al, 2005).

Although probation provides some supervision, it does not provide prelease services or, in most cases, significant contact throughout the months post release (Brooks…et al, 2005). Many of the challenges that inmates face when they leave prison, such as lack of education, homelessness, unemployment, and substance use disorders make prisoners more likely to return to crime upon release (DOLETA, 2009). As a rule, all reentry programs focus on rehabilitation services that aid the prisoner in successful reentry into the community post release in an attempt to reduce recidivism (DOLETA, 2009). Many reentry programs offer a variety of educational and vocational services to prisoners [based on need] prerelease (DOLETA, 2009). They also offer some form of transitional services to help inmates address the specific challenges they face upon leaving prison, such as helping inmates get a state id, food stamps, health insurance and locate their family (DOLETA, 2009). Some of the post release services offered include supervision or referrals to needed health, housing and employment facilities (DOLETA, 2009)

Regrettably our current legislation in Massachusetts provides these longer costly sentences that often end with an unsupervised release into the community (Brooks, Solomon, Keegan, Kohl & Lahue, 2005). Although new policies aim to deter criminals from engaging in new criminal activities by making the punishment (i.e. time incarcerated) harsher, the research indicates that the rate of recidivism have been relatively stable for the last 15 years (Greineder, 2011). One study conducted, by DOC’s Research and Planning Division, revealed that 48% of those released were convicted of, though not necessarily re-incarcerated for, a new crime within three years of release (Massachusetts Department of Corrections, 2015). Some research even indicates these longer sentences in conjunction with inadequate post release supervision practices often leave inmates unprepared for reentry into the community and at a higher risk for reincarnation (Forman & Larivee, 2013). As recidivism accounts for a large portion of the criminal activity and the Criminal Justice Department budget managing recidivism is of particular concern. The current research supports the use of reentry programs, that rehabilitate prisoners in prison and help them transition into the community, as a cost effective ways to manage recidivism and reduce crime (Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration, 2009).

One reentry program I recommend is offered by the “Division of Inmate Educational and Training Program”. This program focuses on comprehensive academic and vocational programming based on the inmate’s individual’s needs (MDC, 2015). This program is used to teach inmates “competency achievement, basic literacy skills, salable skills, and work ethics” (MDC, 2015). The classes offered start at elementary level, proceed through basic educational needs and aim to help inmates get General Equivalency Diplomas (MDC, 2015). However, for eligible inmates at select locations Boston College offers opportunities for our inmates to obtain college degrees.  This educational program is mandatory for all prisoners. Accordingly, the educational needs of each inmate are accessed at admissions and then they are place in classes based on their level of need (MDC, 2015).

The purpose of this program is to prepare inmates with vital educational and employment skills for life outside the prison (MDC, 2015). Low levels of opportunity make people far more likely to engage in criminal behavior. With only 25% of the jobs in Massachusetts open to those without a diploma there are very few legal opportunities to adequately sustain one’s needs without a diploma. This puts those without high school diploma at significant risk for unemployment, poverty and criminal behavior. Not surprisingly, our surveys reports that 50% of those who enter Massachusetts prison systems do not have a high school diploma (MDC, 2015).

I would recommend The Divisions Educational and Vocational Training Program to Centervale’s Prisons because participation in educational and vocational training can reduce recidivism significantly. One nationwide study found that educational programs in prison can reduce recidivism by 5.1% and vocational programs could reduce recidivism by 12.6% (MDC, 2015). Another report evaluated the efficiency and cost-benefit of programs funded by the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Department to reduce recidivism. This report revealed that the Education in Prison was the best return on investment in the Massachusetts Correction Facility, showing a 19.2% reduction in recidivism at a $6.60 cost-benefit ratio. This means for every one dollar the state spent on rehabilitation the state saw a $6.60 benefit in recidivism reduction.

Another reentry program I recommend is called the "Medication Assisted Treatment Reentry Initiative". Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) refers to the use of pharmacotherapy in conjunction with traditional substance abuse therapies to help addicts recover from addiction and improve social function (SAMHSA, 2015). This program is used specifically to get inmates treatment for their substance use disorders pre-release, as well as, helping them obtain post release referrals to multifaceted programs that use medication to manage alcohol and opioid addiction (MDC, 2015). The MATRI is available at only few of our prisons and is only for opioid and alcohol addicted inmates (MDC, 2015). To enter the program inmates have to have a documented addiction problem for alcohol or opioids and complete the Department’s Residential Substance Abuse Treatment Program (MDC, 2015).

The objective of the program is to reduce both recidivism and substance use post release by helping inmates get medication and substance abuse treatment both inside and outside the facility (MDC, 2015). Medication-Assisted Treatment has been used effectively in the United States for the treatment of both alcohol and opioid dependence (SAMHSA, 2015). Research indicates when Medication Assisted Treatment is used in conjunction with a comprehensive treatment program, MAT can improve: survival, treatment retention and employment rates, as well as, birth outcomes with perinatal addicts (SAMHSA, 2015). Other documented advantages of MAT programs participation include decreases in: illicit opiate use, hepatitis and HIV seroconversion, and criminal activity (SAMHSA, 2015).

I would recommend the Medication Assisted Treatment Reentry Initiative to Centervale’s Prison to reduce the cost of drug related crime and reduce the rate of recidivism.  Surveys from the Mass Department of Correctional Facilities report that of 73% of the population has a substance abuse problem that will put the offender at risk to recidivate without treatment. Various reports indicate that supervised outpatient treatment for low level nonviolent drug offenders would be equally, if not more, cost effective than incarceration (Greineder, 2011). Evidence based models that evaluate the effectiveness of programs offered to inmates in hopes of reducing recidivism indicated that when MAT is provided in Modified Therapeutic Communities the result is a 9.7% reduction in crime with a cost benefit ratio of $6.27 per every dollar invested (Mass Department of Corrections, 2015).  

















Brooks, L. E.  Solomon, A. L., Keegan, S., Kohl, R. & Lahue, L. (2005). Prisoner Reentry in Massachusetts. Mass.Gov. Retrieved from Http://Www.Mass.Gov/Eopss/Docs/Doc/Research-Reports/Prisoner-Reentry-In-Ma.Pdf

Greineder, D. K. (2011). Mass Incarceration: How Justified and How much Public Saftey Does it Buy? Lifers Group. etrieved from

Forman, B. & Larivee, J. (2013). Crime, Cost, and Consequences: Is It Time to Get Smart on Crime? MassInc. Retrieved from

Massachusetts Results First. (2014). Cost-Benefit Analysis. Pew Charitable Trusts. Retrieved from

Mass Department of Corrections. (2015). Substance Abuse Treatment and Corrections. Mass Department of Corrections. Retrieved from

MDC. (2015). Program Description Booklet. Retrieved from Http://Www.Mass.Gov/Eopss/Docs/Doc/Program-Booklet.Pdf

Schmalleger, Frank J. Criminal Justice Today: An Introductory Text for the 21st Century, 13th Edition. Pearson Learning Solutions, 01/2014. VitalBook file.

SAMHSA. (2015). Medication Assisted Treatment. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved from

United States Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration. (2009). Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative: "GOING HOME". Mass.Gov. Retrieved from Http://Www.Doleta.Gov/Grants/Sga/Reentry.Cfm