Minutes from 1/13 Meeting

Special Commission on Correctional Funding Minutes
Thursday, January 13, 2022
(virtual meeting)

Commissioners Present:

  • Chair William Brownsberger
  • Chair Michael Day
  • Commission Michael Widmer
  • Commissioner Ben Forman
  • Commissioner Timothy Whelan
  • Commissioner Thomas Preston
  • Commissioner James Cowdell
  • Commissioner Thomas Hodgson
  • Commissioner James Morton
  • Commissioner Ed Dolan
  • Commissioner Kevin Keefe
  • Commissioner Gerard Horgan
  • Commissioner Michael Ashe
  • Commissioner Michael Avitzur
  • Commissioner Kevin Coppinger

Commissioners Absent:

  • Commissioner Ryan Fattman
  • Commissioner Emi Joy
  • Commissioner Christina Crowley
  • Commissioner Francesca Spina

The meeting began with a roll call to approve the minutes from the January 4th meeting with all members present approving said minutes.

Senator Brownsberger said that the Chairs would pull together a draft, send the draft to Commissioners and have a meeting on January 24th to discuss the draft report, provide time for feedback, and send a final presentation to then be voted on and filed on January 31st. Senator Brownsberger suggested creating the report in PowerPoint form as opposed to a written report. The Chairs clarified that there will be appendices with underlying analyses attached. Commissioners agreed to reviewing a draft report in PowerPoint form.

Senator Brownsberger brought up two points for discussion that the testimony emphasized: 1. Capacity and inmate trends; 2. Success implementing programming.

Senator Brownsberger began with 1, that inmate populations have declined over the last year but costs have not. Representative Whelan said that it is too soon to look at declining counts due to COVID and only a number of years of data of the impacts of the Criminal Justice Reform before COVID hit. He also pointed out that in 2007-2009, inmate counts went up without budgets going up in correctional spaces. He reiterated his concern of recommending cutting budgets in these unprecedented times. Sheriff Coppinger reiterated Representative Whelan’s statements and said that COVID is unpredictable, and counts may again come up, along with the increase in programming provided as opposed to warehousing inmates as corrections was forced to in the mid-2000s. Michael Widmer said that the Commission process highlighted the complexities of corrections and that the Commission report should highlight this, though he does think it is appropriate to say prior to COVID, there was a multi-year decline in prison populations, though he does not come to the conclusion that the Commission should recommend budget cuts. Tom Preston asked if DOC and Sheriffs could include footnotes that a declining population does not mean a decrease in spending, especially when considering COVID and other staffing complexities. Senator Brownsberger said that yes, and that this Commission could represent this. Gerard Horgan recommended the report saying that corrections in the mid-2000s is very different than corrections today, and one reason for MA having the lowest rates of incarceration in the country is due to the work that DOC and the Sheriffs are doing. Sheriff Hodgson highlighted that each county has different facilities, and the lower numbers of incarcerated individuals have allowed sheriffs to separate inmates to keep them safe from COVID.  Ben Forman said his continued concern is inequities in funding across agencies which leads to the opportunity to provide programming, and that additional data is needed to be able to monitor evidence-based programming; cost-effective public investment needs to be driven by data. Sheriff Ashe highlighted those inmates coming into county jails are much more violent and higher needs than in the past. Ed Dolan highlighted the need for a more sophisticated model to be implemented to determine real costs, as well as programming investment and evaluation, across all sheriff agencies. Senator Brownsberger asked if the NIC process should be expanded to help determine care and custody costs, or alternatively, if another Commission should do this. Sheriff Coppinger said that the current NIC process should be an ongoing process. Tom Preston asked if NIC analyses would be mandated or if it was something that the agencies could choose to do. Representative Day said that the NIC staffing analyses was to provide a new light on staffing analyses, as well as for the Commission and Legislature to make recommendations. Representative Day expressed concern that there was a lack of uniformity across NIC analyses, which is part of a larger trend of lack of uniformity across corrections. Representative Day reiterated his concern with lack of standards or definitions across corrections, which was symbolic of the NIC process. Ben Forman said that this is important to understand, especially when considering capital costs and determining those costs to the state and using space most effectively. Sheriff Ashe said that the lack of uniformity has been a continued criticism of the Sheriffs, and believes that this Commission is the first attempt to create uniformity, but that this work should continue past the Commission, regardless of what form this takes. Kevin Keefe agreed that it is hard to predict the future, though there was a declining population prior to COVID. He was impressed by the work that the Sheriffs, as illustrated by Essex County, in MAT programming and evidence-based programming. He acknowledged the public demand to decrease CO numbers, but recognized that standardizing programming is important, though he does not have solutions, either.

Senator Brownsberger moved to the topic of standardization of programming. Senator Brownsberger said that he does not believe that MA will ever get standardization of programming without an agency whose job it is to do just that. The programming data provided to the Commission highlighted this issue, as the data was not uniform. This agency could be located within Health and Human Services whose job it is to review paperwork or do their own assessment to determine needs and a process to assess if inmate needs are being met. Senator Brownsberger opened this topic up for discussion. Representative Whelan said that this is a good idea through standardization, but it will cost money and warned against unfunded mandates. Kevin Keefe said that EOHHS is already doing some work in this space in the form of Medicaid inmate exclusion waivers to give inmates clinical care through MassHealth/Medicare, as well as some EOHHS going in and meeting with some inmates prior to release, though this is voluntary and not with every inmate. Representative Day said that before getting to that recommendation, the Commission must ensure that Sheriffs and DOC utilize the same definitions. Senator Brownsberger said that this agency would use a centralized definition. Sheriff Hodgson raised concern of how one agency would be able to do that, especially considering different inmate demographics across the state. Sheriff Coppinger said that mental health courts and drug courts running in Essex County work together to help inmates, which is a new coordination. He suggested continued coordination with these courts. Sheriff Ashe offered support for Senator Brownsberger’s of a new agency tasked to do this work, as this would build uniformity across sheriff agencies. Michael Widmer recognized organized desire for sheriffs to improve and recognized that this would only be possible through a body like what Senator Brownsberger suggested. The ability to create this change would impact the Commonwealth in great ways and believes that this should be a key recommendation. Ben Forman reiterated Michael Widmer’s thoughts, and said that we need more data to evaluate, which this agency would be able to collect. Senator Brownsberger said that the Chairs would put some of these thoughts onto paper for further Commission discussion.

Senator Brownsberger thanks Carrie and the MSA for returning a data request for the number of cells, beds, and units in each correctional facility to compare them to capacity numbers reported to the state. These numbers will help the Commission determine if facilities are under capacity or if these facilities have historically been overcapacity and are now in fact back to appropriate capacity. Senator Brownsberger said that part of standardization and reporting recommendations should include making these capacity numbers more uniform and easier to understand.

Sheriff Ashe expressed appreciation for the visit that the Chairs and their staff had in November 2021 in Hampden County to see four facilities.

Sheriff Ashe presented an additional document, Evidence-Based Practice for Correctional Practices in MA. This document can be accessed here.

Michael Widmer reiterated need for standard definitions to allow for evaluation and thus transparency.

Senator Brownsberger said that the Commission would receive a draft report for review by 1/21. The Commission set its next meeting on Monday, January 24th at 11AM.  

Sheriff Ashe Evidence-Based Practices in Corrections Document