Gubernatorial hopeful Kayyem unveils criminal justice reform plan

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Juliette Kayyem unveiled a blueprint for criminal justice reform today that calls for rethinking sentencing for drug offenders, creating a statewide task force to examine corrections programs, and allocating more money for inmate job training and health services.

The six-page plan was formally rolled out at an event at 50’s Diner in Dedham.

“The criminal justice reform plan is a continuation of Juliette’s promise to bring bold innovative ideas to tackle tough problems,” the Kayyem campaign said in a statement.

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The plan proposes the creation of a multi-pronged task force that would scrutinize current state corrections programs and recommend changes aimed at improving efficiency. Kayyem plans to give the task force the authority to partner with local, state, and federal agencies to implement change.

The plan also calls for the expansion of veterans’ drug courts, which requires veterans who enter the criminal justice system to report for regular check-ins and provide them with mentors and access to treatment and rehabilitative services.

In March, a study commissioned by the nonpartisan research group MassInc decried the state’s rising prison population, and called skyrocketing prison costs a major budgetary concern. The study concluded that harsher sentences and fewer paroles have extended prison stays by a third since 1990, costing the state an extra $150 million a year.

Kayyem’s criminal justice reform plan cites the MassInc study, and calls on Massachusetts to look to other states — such as Texas, Georgia, and South Carolina — as models to implement evidence-based reforms and save taxpayer’s money.

In the plan, Kayyem says she will continue efforts by current Governor Deval Patrick to reduce recidivism rates and stall projected growth in the state’s prison population.

Since becoming governor in 2007, Patrick has repeatedly called for large-scale sentencing and corrections changes. Legislators, however, have stripped much of Patrick’s proposed overhauls to the state’s prison system from the annual state budgets.

Kayyem, a former state and federal homeland security official, is one of five Democrats competing to succeed Patrick when his second term expires next year. The other Democrats competing in the primary are Attorney General Martha Coakley, Treasurer Steven Grossman, former Obama administration health care official Donald M. Berwick, and biotechnology executive Joseph Avellone.

Businessman and former state official Charles D. Baker, who unsuccessfully challenged Patrick in 2010, is widely expected to again be the GOP nominee.