Mass. prison spending up, despite drop in crime rates

The exterior of MCI-Shirley. (Getty Images)
The exterior of MCI-Shirley. Credit:Getty Images

A new report calls on Massachusetts to reform its criminal justice system, saying prison spending is rising despite a decline in violent crime.

In “Crime, Cost, and Consequences: Is It time to Get Smart on Crime?” MassINC, the Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, and Community Resources for Justice say “tough on crime” laws that require mandatory minimum sentences are ineffective and too expensive.

The coalition, made up of dozens of law enforcement and legal experts, is chaired by former U.S. Attorney Wayne Budd, former state Public Safety Secretary Kevin Burke, and Max Stern, president of the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

“In this difficult fiscal environment, corrections budgets are unnecessarily crowding out other state spending, including funding for public health, higher education and local aid,” Budd, Burke, and Stern wrote in an introductory letter. “Without a change of course, the Executive Office of Administration and Finance estimates that at least $1 billion will be needed for new facilities, with operating costs growing by $120 million annually.”

The research shows that the percentage of Massachusetts residents in prison has tripled since the early 1980s, with fewer inmates released on parole. That’s pushing the price tag for corrections above $1 billion each year – an amount that could double over the next decade unless policy changes are implemented.

“This report documents the problems and the potential solutions to what has become a point of reckoning in criminal justice policy in Massachusetts,” Budd said in a statement. “It is time we joined other states that are investing in what works, rather than spending money on what doesn’t.”

The groups say Massachusetts also has to do more to integrate prisoners back into society. Sixty percent of inmates commit new crimes within six years of being released from state and county prisons. If the recidivism rate could be lowered by five percent, the report claims, the state would save $150 million a year.

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