Closing Massachusetts’ Training Schools

Reflections Forty Years Later

By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

June 2, 2014

Summary

In December 2011, more than 100 of the nation’s leading juvenile justice experts convened for a day-long symposium in Washington, D.C., to remember and reconsider an historic reform campaign — the closure of Massachusetts’ entire network of juvenile reform schools in the early 1970s. The facility closures were unprecedented and highly controversial, and they were meticulously studied in their aftermath. For a time, many reformers believed that Massachusetts would become the model for similar efforts throughout the nation. However, a serious but time-limited spike in youth violence in the early 1990s prompted a dramatic turn away from rehabilitation and deinstitutionalization in juvenile justice, and the Massachusetts story largely faded from public consciousness.

Recently, however, states across the country have begun shuttering juvenile corrections facilities and dramatically reducing the population of young people incarcerated. Suddenly, far from the one-of-a-kind anomaly it seemed only a few years ago, Massachusetts stands out today as a prescient trailblazer on the path to end our nation’s long-standing overreliance on juvenile incarceration. The symposium was convened to provide present-day reformers an opportunity to review the efforts of their predecessors in Massachusetts, glean the lessons of history and retool them for the current day.

This publication recounts the symposium. It provides a history of the Massachusetts reform campaign and its aftermath, summarizes the major themes and ideas presented by speakers and details the conclusions and recommendations emerging from group discussions.

Table of Contents

Key Takeaway

Forty Years Later, Valuable Lessons from Massachusetts’ Historic Deincarceration Campaign

Forty years after Massachusetts shocked the juvenile justice field by closing down its entire network of juvenile training schools, the lessons of its reform campaign are newly relevant as states across the country explore opportunities to reduce their reliance on juvenile incarceration.

Findings & Stats

Dramatic shift from custody to community

Between 1968 and 1974, Massachusetts reduced the number of youth in correctional confinement from 833 to 132, which increasing the number of committed youth in foster care placements or non-residential programs from zero to 1,123.

Low Recidivism

In the mid-1980s, the National Council on Crime and Delinquency undertook a study of the Massachusetts system. The study compared recidivism among Massachusetts youth released from state custody in 1984 and 1985 to rates among similar youth from several other states that continued to rely extensively on large correctional institutions. It found that Massachusetts had the lowest recidivism rates of any state studied.

Statements & Quotations