1. An Introduction to the Need for Criminal Justice Reform:

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander (2010)

This book explains the problem of over-incarceration in the United States, where we lock up a higher percentage of our population than nearly all other nations.  Of the over 2 million people we keep behind bars, nearly half are African Americans, and it is a systemic problem rather than one of  “culture”.  We can change this but we need to understand the problem first.  This book helped inspire me to get involved in this issue legislatively on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (2014)

Written by the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative about a poor, African American client on death row for a murder he didn’t commit.  It shows the injustices in our system, including the legacy of slavery. “The opposite of poverty is not wealth: the opposite of poverty is justice.”  What is the problem when prosecutors can push a suspect to take a plea deal?

Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong by Brandon Garrett (2011)

A law professor explains the problems with eyewitness testimony, false confessions, bad forensics and how that can lead to conviction of individuals who are later exonerated.  He examines the first 250 people to be exonerated by DNA evidence in the US.

Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison by Nell Bernstein (2014)

Explains the problems with how our criminal justice system treats youth, and is focused on the poor and minorities.  Child offenders are not like adult offenders and detention usually makes their problems worse. “The greatest predictor that a kid would grow up to be a criminal was being incarcerated in a juvenile facility.”

Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing by Ted Conover (2000)

A journalist became a corrections officer at Sing Sing prison in New York to understand the difficulties of being a guard.

Writing My Wrongs by Shaka Senghor (2016)

The memoir of a former prisoner, a former crack dealer, who spent seven years in solitary confinement in Michigan.  Life behind bars is shown to

be defined by violence.  The author has received a fellowship from the M.I.T. Media Lab and is working for a system designed to rehabilitate through restorative justice and atonement. He also calls for the need to reduce the prison population. “living in peace instead of resting in peace”

The President’s Role in Advancing Criminal Justice Reform by Barack Obama (2017)

How our criminal justice system exacerbates inequality, impacts communities, costs too much and needs to improve programs for reintegrating individuals into society.  With a call for keeping guns out of the hands of those who are a threat to themselves or others, enhancing trust in the system and addressing the opioid epidemic.  With a focus on the importance of second chances and redemption.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2016)

A father’s “letter” to his son on what it means to grow up black in America, to have a history of 250 years of enslavement, in a country where unarmed black men and boys are at greater risk of being killed or singled out by law enforcement or members of street “crews”.  What is it like growing up with a sense of fear and the “need to be always on guard”?  And now to be a father of a black son?


  1. Video/Audio (listen during your commute)

A prosecutor’s vision for a better justice system. Adam Foss TED talk (2016)

The future of race in America. Michelle Alexander (2013)

We need to talk about an injustice, Bryan Stevenson (2012)

13th on Netflix, by Ava DuVernay (2016)

Podcasts: Serial Season 1; Undisclosed Podcast; Actual Innocence by Brooke Gittings; Criminal (In)Justice with David A. Harris; Criminal by Phoebe Judge and Lauren Spohrer


  1. Finding data and keeping up with the topic in depth in Massachusetts:

Council of State Governments-Massachusetts


Criminal Justice Policy Coalition Massachusetts

Jobs Not Jails

Coalition for Effective Public Safety

Communities 4 Restorative Justice

Or nationally:

The Marshall Project

Equal Justice Initiative

Prison Policy Initiative

The Sentencing Project

Robina Institute of Criminal Law & Criminal Justice

Vera Institute of Justice

Brennan Center for Justice

Laura and John Arnold Foundation

Urban Institute

  1. More resources to explore criminal justice reform with links to Massachusetts:

The Geography of Incarceration: The Cost and Consequences of High Incarceration Rates in Vulnerable City Neighborhoods by Ben Forman with the Boston Indicators Project (2016) This report shows a disproportionate effect of incarceration on Boston’s low-income residents of color, and that in some neighborhoods nearly every street has residents that have been behind bars.  This high rate of incarceration affects the individual, their families, the neighborhood, and the city as a whole.

Justice Reinvestment at a Glance: Community Corrections by Ben Forman (2016) Explores the underuse of community corrections in lieu of incarceration in Massachusetts even though we have 17 available centers.

Crime, Cost, and Consequences: A Two Year Progress Report By Ben Forman and John Larivee (2015)  A comprehensive look at the Massachusetts criminal justice system.  Follow up to the 2013 report.

Harnessing the Power of Data for Justice Reinvestment in Massachusetts by Ben Forman and Joe Farrell (2016) Where we fall short in our collection of use of data in the Massachusetts criminal justice system.

Reducing Recidivism in Massachusetts with a Comprehensive Reentry Strategy by Jonathan Jones and Ben Forman (2016)  How to improve reentry and reduce recidivism in Massachusetts.

The Resolve to Stop the Violence Project: transforming an in-house culture of violence through a jail-based programme by Bandy Lee and James Gilligan (2005) An analysis of the RSVP program in San Francisco shows that it reduces violent incidents during incarceration.

Boy with a Knife: A Story of Murder, Remorse, and a Prisoner’s Fight for Justice by Jean Trounstine  (2016)  Focusing on the story of Karter Reed in Massachusetts, the problem of juveniles in adult jails or prisons is addressed.  She highlights the prevalence of suicide, assault, and upon release, increased recidivism.

Upper Bunkies Unite: And Other Thoughts on the Politics of Mass Incarceration by Andrea James (2013)  Points out the problems for women, and especially parents of young children, when they are behind bars.  Andrea is from Boston and went on to found Families for Justice as Healing, which advocates for keeping families together and promotes community based alternatives for primary caregivers convicted of nonviolent crimes.


  1. And more if you want to dive in deeper (primary focus is Massachusetts):

Data sources Massachusetts & Incarceration numbers

Department of Correction Research Department

Sentencing Commission – Survey of Sentencing Practices

Houses of Correction – Hampden County research

Office of the Commissioner of Probation

Senator William Brownsberger statistics

Governor’s Commission on Corrections Reform Report

Federal prison in MA: Fort Devens website

State Prisons, Houses of Corrections and Jails: Massachusetts Department of Corrections: Prison Population Trends (2015) and more data

Incarceration Trends in Massachusetts by Mass Budget and Policy Center (2016)

Houses of Corrections and Jails: Population Trends 2016 data

The Price of Jails: Measuring the Taxpayer Cost of Local Incarceration Vera Institute (2015) Hampden County, MA included

How One Massachusetts Jail Cut Its Population by 30% in 6 Years (2015) about Hampden County

The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences (2014) ed. By Jeremy Travis, Bruce Western, and Steve Redburn. National Academy of Sciences

Felony Larceny Thresholds
: The Effects of Changing State Theft Penalties by Pew (Wisconsin is also at $2500 with Texas)

Raising the Threshold for Felony Larceny by Will Brownsberger

California Proposition 47 redesignating felonies to misdemeanors

Fines and Fees and Collateral Consequences: Fine Time Massachusetts: Judges, Poor People, and Debtors’ Prison in the 21st Century by Massachusetts Senate Post Audit and Oversight Committee (2016)

Collateral Consequences Sentencing Project sources (child custody, voting rights, denial of licensing, education, housing, etc, kids having their parents in their lives)

Beyond the Sentence-Understanding Collateral Consequences by Sarah Berson (2013)

State Bans on Debtors’ Prisons and Criminal Debt by Harvard Law Review (2016)

Denying Housing over Criminal Record may be Discrimination, Feds Say by Camila Domonoske

General Topics

A book list put together by Jean Trounstine

Race and Punishment: Racial Perceptions of Crime and Support for Punitive Policies by The Sentencing Project (2014)

Sheriff, Greater Lowell police work to break cycle of incarceration by Alana Melanson

How Many Americans are Unnecessarily Incarcerated? By Lauren-Brooke Eisen, et. al

Transforming Prisons, Restoring Lives: Final Recommendations of the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections (2016)

Are Prosecutors the Key to Justice Reform? By Juleyka Lantigua-Williams (2016)

The War on Drugs and Prison Growth: Limited Importance, and Limited Legislative Options by John Pfaff (2015)

Juvenile and Expungement: Massachusetts Department of Youth Services, 2014 Annual Report 2015 Recidivism Report

Advocates fight to erase shadow of juvenile court records by Jan Ransom (2016)

Massachusetts should clear juvenile records by Naoka Carey, Ben Forman and Geoff Foster (2016)

Viewing Justice Reinvestment through a Developmental Lens: New approaches to reducing young adult recidivism in Massachusetts by Benjamin Forman and Sarah Yee (2015)

Justice for Juveniles: Restorative Justice another path for citizens of the commonwealth by Erin Freeborn (2014)

Juvenile Court Restorative Justice Diversion

Unlocking potential: Addressing the overuse of juvenile detention in Massachusetts by Citizens for Juvenile Justice (2014)

Wrongfully Convicted often Find their Record, Unexpunged, Haunts Them by Jack Healy (2013)

Expungement and Post-exoneration Offending by Amy Shlosberg, Evan Mandery, Valerie West and Bennett Callaghan (2014)

New England Innocence Project

Why is it so Hard for Wrongfully Convicted Women to Get Justice? By Molly Redden (2015)

Mandatory Minimums and Sentencing:

Speaker Robert DeLeo takes case-by-case approach to mandatory minimum sentences by Shira Schoenberg (2017)

Sentencing 101 by FAMM

Mandatory Sentencing and why it’s not working by FAMM

The Sledgehammer Justice of Mandatory Minimum Sentencing by George Will (2013)

Federal Mandatory Minimum facts (2016)

Mandatory Minimum Penalties at Federal Level (2013)

Reforming Sentencing and Corrections Policy: The Experience of Justice Reinvestment States (2016)“South Carolina, Nebraska, and Alaska raised their thresholds to qualify as felony theft from $1,000 to $2,000, $500 to $1,500,and $750 to $1,000, respectively. Alaska also included a provision to make future adjustments for inflation.” & “Several states revised mandatory minimums to allow judges to tailor sentences to each case.” (Maryland, Mississippi)

Medical Release: Medical Placement of Terminal and Incapacitated Inmates by Prisoners’ Legal Services

Among state lawmakers, compassionate release of inmates in a divisive issue by Milton J. Valencia

The High Costs of Low Risk: The Crisis of America’s Aging Prison Population by the Osborne Association

Mental Health issues and the criminal justice system:

Globe Spotlight Series: Families in Fear; Police Confrontations; Community Care; Courts; Prisons; Homelessness; Solutions; Discuss

Parole and Presumptive Parole: Massachusetts Parole Board: Annual Statistical Report (2014)

Prisoners’ Legal Services on Parole

Why Massachusetts Parole Board requires reform by Jean Trounstine (2016)

Mich. House passes bill adopting ‘presumptive parole’ by Kathleen Gray (2015)

The Massachusetts Parole Board 2012 by Gordon Haas


In Massachusetts: A Response to the Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing

Pretrial and Bail Reforms:

Exploring the Potential for Pretrial Innovation in Massachusetts by Alexander Jones and Benjamin Forman (2015)

Roadmap to Pretrial Reforms: Profile Analysis of New Hampshire’s Pretrial Defendant Population (2016)

Massachusetts Bail: Alternatives and Opportunities (2014)

Mass Bail Fund publications

The Case Against Cash Bail (2015) by Margaret Talbot

Probation: Massachusetts Probation Service Fiscal Year 2015 Year-End Probation Caseload

Punishing Poverty: The High Cost of Probation Fees in Massachusetts

Recidivism – General

Pew Charitable Trust – The State of Recidivism (2011)

Social Policy Research – How Communities Can Reduce Recidivism

Pell Center: Incarceration and Recidivism: Lessons from Abroad

Recidivism – Massachusetts

Reincarcerated: The Experiences of Men Returning to Massachusetts Prisons (2008)

Massachusetts Recidivism Study (2008)

Re-entry and prison education – General

Rand Corporation: Evaluating Effectiveness of Correctional Education

MDRC: Prisoner Reentry

Federal Reentry Council

Social Policy Research – Evaluation of the Re-Integration of Ex-Offenders (RExO) Program (2015)

The Council of State Governments – Justice Reinvestment Initiatives

Annie E. Casey Foundation – Reentry Helping Former Prisoners Return to Communities

Harvard Magazine – The Urban Jobs Crisis (2013)

Returning Home studies

Innovative Reentry Practices for Incarcerated People Coming Home by Kathleen Culhane (2016)

Financial information and tools available to help people transitioning from incarceration

Protecting one’s credit while in the Criminal Justice System

Re-entry and prison education – Massachusetts

Massachusetts DOC – Rethinking Reentry (2012)

Regional Reentry Centers

Coming Home Directory Offender Reentry Services Greater Boston

Harvard University – Boston Reentry Study includes Research Briefs and Working Papers by Bruce Western, Anthony Braga and Rhiana Kohl

Meet Our Prisoners by Dana Goldstein about the Boston Reentry Study (2015)

Urban Institute – Prisoner Reentry In Massachusetts (2005)

At Middlesex jail, a sheriff’s program worth praising by Kevin Cullen (2017)

Restorative Justice: When Killer and Victim’s Mother Meet, Paths from Grief, Fear and Guilt Emerge (2017) NYT  Healing for a victim’s mother through restorative justice & After the pain a chance to meet and forgive

Communities for Restorative Justice reading list

Solitary in Massachusetts-Spotlight follow upMass. unlawfully isolates mentally ill inmates (2016)

Caged In: The Devastating Harms of Solitary Confinement on Prisoners with Physical Disabilities (2017)

Solitary Watch

Massachusetts Prisoners Sent to Solitary After Meeting with State Legislators About Prison Reform by Jack Denton (2016)

How Albert Woodfox Survived Solitary (2017) by Rachel Aviv

Thank you to the many people in Massachusetts working on Criminal Justice Reform issues who gave many of the above suggestions including Lori Kenschaft, John Bowman, Lew Finfer, Susan Tordella, Jean Trounstine, Josh Beardsley, Charlotte Simpson, Prisoners’ Legal Services and Criminal Justice Policy Coalition.