Bills take aim at reducing recidivism, improving accountability
BOSTON – Representative Steve Ultrino (D – Malden) announced new legislation this month aimed at addressing issues within the criminal justice system. The newly-filed bills come as legislators mull over an outside report released in February by the Council of State Governments (CSG) on Massachusetts criminal justice issues. Lawmakers are expected to take up criminal justice legislation this session.
One bill, An Act relative to correctional education data collection, would bring the more than two dozen state and county correctional facilities together to improve inmate programming on substance abuse, anger management, literacy, adult basic education, high school diploma equivalency (HiSET) and more. The bill creates a statewide information hub for state and county correctional facilities to share program information, enrollment, and personal information about each inmate. The state would use the information to identify successful programs that reduce recidivism, substance abuse, and other negative outcomes, and would annually publish data on correctional education programs. It would also help correctional staff know more about new inmates who have already served time elsewhere.
“When you have an inmate for a year or two, and your job is to help them turn their life around, every day counts,” said Representative Ultrino, who served as the Director of Education for the Middlesex County Sheriff until his election to the House of Representatives in 2014. “To know right away that an inmate has a substance abuse problem, or a learning disability, or a language barrier – and then to know which programs are effective at addressing those needs – that’s a big deal.”
The CSG report found that two-thirds of inmates released from county Houses of Correction and more than half of those released from state facilities recidivate within three years. Improving correctional education and programming is crucial to reducing those recidivism rates.
“Right now, our state and county facilities tend to operate in silos. If we have a great substance abuse program in Middlesex County, and it’s reducing drug-related recidivism, other correctional facilities should know about it,” said Representative Ultrino.
Representative Ultrino filed two other news bills on justice issues: one that addresses a discrepancy regarding license reinstatement if a defendant is found not guilty, and one that establishes a task force of legislators, sheriffs, corrections officers, and advocates exploring potential solutions to correctional education challenges.
Representative Ultrino has filed seven bills so far this legislative session, and has co-sponsored bills on health care, education, civil rights, elder care, and other important issues.