The rate of incarceration in Massachusetts is down, but by how much varies widely depending on which county you're looking at, says WBUR Radio. That was an initial finding of an independent review of the state's criminal justice system commissioned by Gov. Charlie Baker. The review was conducted by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, which presented its first report to the state's criminal justice working group on Tuesday. There was a 12 percent drop in the state’s incarcerated population between 2006 and 2015, but there is a wide variation among county jail populations. In Berkshire County, there was a 52 percent decline in jail population from 2009 and 2015, while in Middlesex County there was a 35 percent increase. That prompted questions from several working group members about the issue of discretion among law enforcement and justice system officials. The report suggests that after a substantial prison population increase, the numbers were about the same in 2015 as they were in 2006.
It found that recidivism rates in Massachusetts have remained close to about 40 percent, and that two out of every five people released from prison return to the community without probation or parole supervision. Only six states had rates of unsupervised prison releases that were higher than Massachusetts as of 2012. Fernandes said that could present an opportunity to figure out how best to make reforms. If one group returned to jail because new crimes were committed, or returned because probation conditions were onerous, then officials can base any policy changes on the data. “We've got a perfect group here to test. The two got no supervision, the three got supervision. Can you tell me how many of the three re-offended versus how many of the two? That tells me a lot,” said state Rep. John Fernandes. That's the point of the review — to collect data to help craft policy changes that will reduce corrections spending and reinvest savings in ways that decrease recidivism and increase public safety.