The incarceration rate in Massachusetts has nearly trippled since the 1980’s, even as the state’s crime rate has gone down. According to a new report by MassINC, that’s because Massachusetts is holding on to an inefficient and expensive corrections system.
Over the past few years, states with reputations for being “tough-on-crime,” like Texas, Mississippi and Arkansas have trimmed their corrections budgets by reducing minimum sentences and developing treatment programs to help offenders re-enter society. That’s according to Benjamin Forman, who wrote the report. Meanwhile, he says Massachusetts hasn’t revisited its approach to sentencing since the mid-nineties. Forman says many non-violent offenders end up serving long sentences in high security prisons, which have replaced many of the state’s minimum security facilities.
“And that’s a real problem. People that have been in very high security settings and then have complete freedom are most likely to fail and find themselves back in prison. And when someone has a substance abuse issue, one of the worst things you can do is put them in prison.”
Forman says sixty percent of offenders released from state and county prison commit a new crime within six years. He says to reduce these odds, Massachusetts needs to develop re-entry training programs and a system for tracking ex-offenders.
“We want to make sure that we have actually good data based on evaluations that are evidence based about who is most likely to re-offend so we can now start to target our resources to those people to reduce the likelihood that they will commit a new crime.”
Forman says curbing the number of repeat offenders by five-percent could save the state up to 150-million dollars annually. He says until the state develops a new corrections model he recommends placing a moratorium on the expansion of all state and county prisons.