The number of prisoners in Massachusetts jails is down 12 percent from six years ago, but spending is still on the rise.
Since 2011, the number of people incarcerated in the state has dropped by almost 3,000 — from 23,850 to 20,961. State spending, however, is up by 18 percent, bringing spending to $1.2 billion last year, according to a report released Monday.
Spending in Massachusetts jails has jumped so much that the state now spends more on corrections than it does on higher education.
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The report, by nonpartisan policy think tank MassINC, raises questions about state spending priorities as most of the spending increases have gone to pad salaries and hire more staff rather than to expand social services and anti-recidivism programs.
About two-thirds of all people incarcerated in Massachusetts will re-offend, according to the report, but instead of investing in programs for inmates, 84 percent of the increased spending went to hire more staff and for higher wages. Average salaries grew from $65,500 to $76,000 between 2011 and 2016.
In that same period, spending on programs for inmates actually declined slightly from 3 percent of the total Department of Corrections budget in 2011 to 2.7 percent in 2016.
“Strong evidence has emerged over the last decade demonstrating that behavioral health treatment, education and training, and re-entry supports can reduce recidivism. Throughout the country, administrators of correctional facilities have sought to increase access to these services. Numerous reviews of the criminal justice system have recommended this course of action in Massachusetts, but progress has been slow,” report authors Ben Forman and Michael Widner wrote in the report.
The state's Executive Office of Public Safety did not immediately return requests for comment Monday, but told The Boston Globe it would review the report’s findings.
As budgets continue to climb despite fewer prisoners, it is driving up annual costs to house inmates. In 2016, it cost $55,616 to house an inmate in a state prison — a 22 percent increase over 2011. Costs in county jails rose even more rapidly. It costs $57,219 to house an inmate in county jail — a 42 percent increase in the same five-year period.
"The savings if we'd held the spending growth to inflation would have been $72 million," co-author Michael Widmer, former president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, told WBUR. "That $72 million could be used dearly elsewhere, including on programs to reduce recidivism."