House Bill 1559, legislation introduced by State Representative Kay Kahn to create a Massachusetts Corrections Commission was reported favorably out of the Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security on October 13th, 2011, and is now in the Rules Committee. PLS director Leslie Walker, former DOC commissioner Kathleen Dennehy, Pace Law School professor Michael Mushlin and community leaders including Boston City Councilor Charles Yancey testified in favor of this legislation at the State House in June 2011.
The current language of the bill provides that “[t]he commission shall be assigned to the executive office of public safety for administrative and fiscal accountability purposes, but it shall otherwise function independently of the control and direction of the executive office of public safety. The commission shall consist of the secretary of public safety or a designee; the commissioner of probation or a designee; the chairman of the parole board or a designee; the commissioner of mental health or a designee; the commissioner of mental retardation or a designee; the commissioner of public health or a designee, ex oficio. The president of the senate shall appoint 2 members; the speaker of the house of representatives shall appoint 2 members. The governor shall appoint 6 members from the following categories: a person to chair the commission who has experience in state government; a district attorney; a public defender; a sheriff; an expert on prisoner re-entry; and a corrections policy expert. The following organizations shall each make one appointment to the commission: the Women’s Bar Association shall appoint an attorney with experience in women’s prison issues; the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans shall appoint a health care expert; the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill shall make one appointment; the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation shall make one appointment; and Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services shall make one appointment.”
The core duty of the proposed commission would be to “study the medical services, including mental health and substance abuse treatment services, and educational, vocational, employment and rehabilitation programs available to prisoners,” and “report annually to the house and senate committees on ways and means and post-audit and oversight, the joint committee on public safety and homeland security and the joint committee on the judiciary on the allocation of resources, specifically fixed and operating costs of any new and preexisting facilities, assets, or personnel utilized by the department of correction. It shall make recommendations regarding how to allocate such resources in the most efficient and useful manner for both the taxpayer and the offender. It shall recommend innovative approaches to resolving present and future issues in criminal justice to promote public safety by, but not limited to, modernizing existing facilities, developing alternative sentencing methods to reduce prison overcrowding, reduce recidivism, and improve rehabilitation.”
This legislation, if enacted, offers a route to balanced evaluation of the DOC and of sentencing policies, and deserves the support of every person in Massachusetts who is concerned with correctional and sentencing reform. It enjoys broad support, including the support of the DOC. Don’t hesitate to contact your state senator and representative and ask him or her to support this bill.