This coming year, the State Legislature is planning to take a serious look at corrections spending and evaluate the distribution of funds across the Department of Correction—which administers the state’s prison system—and the 14 sheriff’s departments—which operate the jails and houses of correction.
The recently-enacted state budget for the current 2020 fiscal year establishes a special commission to conduct a comprehensive study comparing existing funding levels and expenses at each state prison and house of correction and providing a recommendation for an appropriate level or allocation of funding. The budget language, in Outside Section 101, designates a seat for a BBA representative, and we are pleased to have appointed former Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Section Steering Committee Co-Chair and member of the Criminal Justice Reform Working Group, Kate Cook.
Kate has extensive legal, policy and budget experience, and is a partner at Sugarman Rogers where she chairs the Government Law practice. In the past, she served as chief legal counsel to Governor Deval Patrick, advising the Governor and executive branch on legal, regulatory, and policy matters. She also has experience as the General Counsel to the Senate Ways and Means Committee, and as an Assistant Corporation Counsel to the City of Boston.
Kate has been active in the BBA’s Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Section for a number of years. She has also served on our Annual Meeting Steering Committee, the Law Day Steering Committee, the Beacon Award Steering Committee, and the Joint Planning Committee. From 2012 to 2015, she was the Governor’s appointee to the BBA’s Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts.
The Corrections Spending Commission will pursue:
- a review of staffing ratios and employee costs in each state prison and house of correction;
- an examination of potential ways to increase efficiencies and reduce fixed costs in state prisons and houses of correction;
- an analysis of the amount spent by the Department of Correction and by each sheriff’s department on mental health and substance use disorder services and the appropriate levels of funding necessary to meet the service needs of incarcerated people;
- a review of all discretionary programming offered in state prisons and houses of correction, including an analysis of geographical disparities in discretionary programming;
- an analysis of the 2018 criminal-justice reform law, its impacts on state prisons and houses of correction and best practices to implement its requirements;
- a review of the physical assets, infrastructure, buildings and communications equipment owned by each sheriff’s department and state prison; and
- a review of the funding sources for the Department of Correction and each sheriff’s department, including appropriations from the Commonwealth, commissary charges, prison industries, trust fund accounts, intermunicipal agreements, other inmate fees and expenses and other sources of revenue.
The commission is tasked with submitting a written report of its findings no later than September 1, 2020.
The BBA has had a long-standing commitment to promoting a fair and equitable criminal justice system. In October 2017, the Criminal Justice Reform working group that Kate was a part of published a report titled “No Time to Wait: Recommendations for a Fair and Effective Criminal Justice System”. That report outlines a set of recommendations that touch on bail, sentencing, recidivism reduction, and criminal record laws—many of which were adopted the following year, as part of a broad criminal-justice reform package.
A report published in 1991 titled “The Crisis in Corrections and Sentencing in Massachusetts,” created by the Task Force on Justice (a joint project of the BBA and the Crime and Justice Foundation), outlined our concern with overcrowding in corrections facilities and the growing issue of mass incarceration.
We are looking forward to learning more about state spending and financing in the correctional system today, and we hope the commission’s final report will help advance our efforts to promote a fair and equitable criminal justice system.
Government Relations and Executive Assistant
Boston Bar Association