A View from the Hill
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 12, 1998
CONTACT: Erica Quigley (617) 722-2230
ENDING RECIDIVISM: A CHALLENGE FOR OUR SOCIETY
Even before the passage of the Truth in Sentencing Laws in 1994, Massachusetts has been tough on crime. With the establishment of tough sentencing guidelines and the increased availability of mandatory minimum sentences, Massachusetts clearly adheres to the philosophy: "If you do the crime, you do the time." Hardened juvenile offenders have also been addressed with the passage of the Youthful Offender Act in 1996. Due to such new tough laws on crime, deplorable criminal adolescents like Eddie O'Brien receive harsh sentences that act as society's insulation to ward off crime and keep the chaos off our streets and out of our neighborhoods.
While I wholeheartedly support strict enforcement of these tough laws and advocate hard punishment for those who transgress our laws, I am also cognizant that the vast majority of prisoners will serve their time and re-enter society. The real challenge is in making sure that following their punishment, these former inmates do not revert back to their old bad habits. To that extent, our correctional system cannot simply end with the slamming of the cell door. It must be reinforced during and beyond the term of the prisoner's sentence.
The rate of recidivism (the tendency to relapse into criminal behavior) among our prisoners is disturbingly high in this country and cannot be ignored if we are to truly combat crime. While recidivism is common across the board, it is most typically seen in drug-related crimes. When statistics report that more than one third of the inmates in the Massachusetts Department of Corrections have been incarcerated for drug possession and distribution, it is strikingly obvious that drug crimes are a major problem and that substance abuse rehabilitation is necessary in our prisons. In light of these and other similarly jarring statistics, the Massachusetts Legislature has made rigorous substance abuse treatment programs for inmates a priority. Only by "cleansing" our drug addicted inmates will we succeed in reducing drug-related crimes and enabling former inmates to make a smoother transition back into society without turning to crime.
Ever seeking to understand and progress in the rehabilitation of drug-addicts, I, along with a number of legislative and administrative colleagues nationwide, will be attending a National Corrections Conference on Enhancing Public Safety by Reducing Substance Abuse of Youthful and Adult Offenders. The Conference, sponsored by the Office of Justice Programs, Corrections Program Office, is focused on discussing comprehensive treatment and educational initiatives to substantially decrease the number of drug offenders in the system. Indeed, a primary way to reduce the crime rate is to keep a watchful eye on our inmates, particularly as they move on from prison life.
In fact, recent studies show that strict enforcement of cost effective drug testing and drug treatment programs consistently reduce recidivism rates among drug offenders. Several federal and state correctional drug treatment programs, including Massachusetts, demonstrate that offenders who are subject to regular drug tests and strict intervention by prison officials are nearly twice as likely to stay "clean" after being released. Done correctly, routine, rigorous drug testing and inspection of inmates can break the cycle of addiction and ultimately, drug-related crimes.
In addition to combating recidivism through intense drug "cleaning" policies, policymakers must be aware that many offenders who turn to crime enter the system lacking respect for honest work and devoid of any sense of discipline. Most enter prison without job skills or job training. Left to themselves, these inmates are almost certain to return to prison upon their release. One way to break this cycle is to instill a sense of dignity and appreciation for an honest day's work.
Last session, I, along with a number of my colleagues, sponsored a bill establishing the Prison Industry Enhancement (PIE program in Massachusetts. This nationwide program utilizes inmate labor to generate goods and products and achieves several goals, not the least of which is to ensure that prisoners repay their debt to society. The program also helps to offset the cost of incarcerating these individuals and provides money for victims' compensation funds. But the PIE program ultimately establishes a forward looking method to reduce crime by teaching inmates discipline, reducing idleness and providing job skills necessary to facilitate the transition into society upon release. Putting prisoners to work reduces security problems and increases the likelihood that prisoners will reform and conform to reasonable community standards.
Yet, the struggle to reform our prisoners does not end with one's release from jail. We must continue to remind former inmates that crime does not pay and that until they prove themselves to be law-abiding citizens, we as a society, will not let up. That is why I support H.2634, An Act to Establish Sentencing Guidelines and Intermediate Sanctions, to complement the goals of our tough juvenile offender and Truth in Sentencing laws. This bill would ensure the establishment of both heavy sentences, and set strict guidelines for probation and parole. Under the bill, prisoners would be required to demonstrate good behavior and productive participation at work in order to earn certain rights. We must continue to remain tough on crime, while sending the positive reinforcement that good behavior and a strong, honest work ethic will be rewarded.
Strict penalties, in conjunction with strong reinforcement and thorough "cleansing" of law breaking habits can produce results beneficial to both society and the individual inmate. Indeed, crime control is a multi-faceted issue that cannot be ignored upon the release of a prisoner. By taking affirmative steps to rid inmates of drug addictions, to instill a sense of appreciation for a day's work, and to develop a deeper respect others and for an honest buck, we will continue reducing crime in our society