Yesterday Governor Patrick released his proposal for the Fiscal Year 2015 state budget –his final budget before he leaves office. While Governor Patrick’s $36.4 billion budget focuses heavily on education and investments in the life sciences, we were pleased to see his proposals in the area of criminal justice. One proposal would provide a modest increase in spending to help former inmates successfully reintegrate into society. Another proposal included $7 million for a program to reduce juvenile recidivism.
Here’s what the Governor recommended for the Trial Court and for Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation:
We are glad to see that Governor Patrick proposed funding the Massachusetts Trial Court at their maintenance budget request of $615 million plus an additional $2 million for specialty courts. A maintenance budget is the cost of maintaining current services in the next fiscal year and takes into consideration adjustments for costs associated with inflation, caseload changes, and certain other factors.
Developing effective specialty courts and expanding the ones we already have in the areas of drug, mental health, homelessness and veterans issues is a great investment. Nationally, these courts have proven effective at reducing recidivism, shortening jail stays, saving money, and helping convicts return to society. The additional funding will help expand the Massachusetts specialty courts program, standardizing it across the state in the areas most in need, and pay for data collection to study its effects to assure that Massachusetts achieves the best results.
Governor Patrick also recommended $14 million in funding for MLAC. While this represents a $1 million increase over last year’s appropriation, this level of funding is $3 million shy of MLAC’s $17 million budget request, meaning legal services programs will still struggle to meet even half of the overwhelming need for civil legal services.
Our attention now turns to the Legislature. We need to persuade both the House and Senate to hold onto the $617 million for the Trial Court and to include the full $17 million in funding for MLAC. The House Budget will come out first in April, followed by the Senate budget in May.
With one week to go before Walk to the Hill, we need your help. Join us at the Great Hall of the State House at 11:00 a.m. on Thursday, January 30th as we kick off this event, then talk to your legislator. But this year, we urge you to also commit to continue those conversations throughout the budget process. That is the real challenge.
You can help us — become an advocate. Let your legislators know you pay attention to their voting and you care about this issue.
Become a resource. As a lawyer and community member, who better to keep your legislators informed on, say, how an increase in pro se litigants affects justice, the court system, your own work, and the citizens of the Commonwealth?
Become an ally. Personal relationship building goes a long way in any profession – politics is no different.
Here are some helpful tips to help you get the most out of interacting with your elected officials and/or their staff on Walk to the Hill day and beyond.
– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association