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Massachusetts’ Spending on Incarceration is Hurting Infrastructure

Contact Attorney Jason Chan

Attorney Jason Chan

244 Brighton Avenue, Suite 105
Allston MA 02134


Phone: 781-343-1DUI (781-343-1384)
Fax: (617) 254-8001

The good news for Massachusetts residents—and law-abiding Americans nationally—is that crime has been on the decline since the late 1980s. The bad news, according to a new report by non-partisan think tank Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth, is that the state’s expenditures on incarcerating criminals significantly hurt the state’s education and infrastructure, reduce taxes entering the state through income lost, and in terms of both social and economic capital injure more than help keep the state safe.

Report: Drug Offenders A Huge Expense

The report, released at the end of March, predicts that Massachusetts will spend an extra $900 million on incarcerating drug offenders over the next decade relative to 1985, with higher costs at the general prison level and no significant impact on the decrease in crime. The report’s argument against such superlative spending on the prison system ranges across the political spectrum, suggesting that such pursuit of crime has both ravaged the state’s inner cities (about 10 metropolitan areas monopolize the prison population of the state) and the state’s budget, causing taxes from lost income of inmates to evaporate and thus damaging both the economy and the state. The cumulative effect of the current policy is a significant decline in spending on education, health care, and infrastructure that could bring great benefit to the state.

What’s more, prison population has tripled since the 1980s and the length of time in jail for individual crimes is also on the rise, which has created new issues with recidivism in convicted criminals once released.

Violent Crime Drop Coincides With Prison Population Increase

These statistics conflict with those on crime generally in the country since 1990—in which violent crime has fallen 45% nationally and 37% in Massachusetts, according to the report. The improvements noted, the study makes it clear that imprisonment is a negligible part of the decrease in crime, particularly when compared to the multi-million-dollar enterprise it represents. Next to increases in public safety measures and community policing, imprisonment has been significantly more expensive while also contributing to recidivism, thus perpetuating more crime—particularly in drug-related cases. One surprisingly contributor to the national decline in criminal activity both in the state and nationally in the larger influx of immigrants, whose populations statistically participate in less crime than natural-born U.S. citizens.

70% of Drug Inmates There Through Mandatory Minimum Violation

The study’s most poignant observations are not general, however, but within the real of drug crime. While Massachusetts decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2009, drug possession and sale continues to make up a significant portion of the prison population. The report notes that 70% of inmates currently imprisoned on drug charges arrived there by way of mandatory minimum statutes, and extended sentencing for them have a direct correlation to repeat offenses, particularly in urban communities.

In contrast to the current regimen, MassINC recommends what it calls Justice Reinvestment, a model that focuses on rehabilitation of prisoners and the safety of neighborhoods, rather than indiscriminate harsh punishment of crime. Justice Reinvestment, the report notes, has made its appearance in other states in several manifestations with positive results.

You can read the full report here.


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