Correction spending rises while incarcerated population declines in Massachusetts

Correction spending rises while incarcerated population declines in Massachusetts

January 4, 2022
By Chris Lisinski

The incarcerated population in Massachusetts has been dropping steadily for close to a decade at the same time that spending on corrections has been growing, divergent trends that prompted reform advocates to call Tuesday for more transparent reporting from state government.

As a panel of lawmakers, sheriffs, administration officials and experts approaches an end-of-month reporting deadline, former assistant attorney general John Bowman urged the group to focus on the disparity between how many people the state has imprisoned and how much money state government spends to fund the Department of Correction and county sheriffs.

“The problem does not seem to be a lack of funding,” Bowman, who is now an Access to Justice fellow, said during the commission’s public hearing. He said data indicate “program spending behind bars fails to reduce the recidivism rate after reentry.”

Between fiscal years 2016 and 2020, the average population of people in Department of Correction custody declined from 9,743 to 7,935, according to data published by the Special Commission on Correctional Funding.

Over that same five-year span, the agency’s total spending increased from about $580 million to more than $732 million, driving up the cost per inmate from $59,535 in FY2016 to $92,368 in FY2020.

Elizabeth Matos, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services, on Tuesday told the commission that she believes there are still “basic questions left unanswered” more than a year after its original reporting deadline, including “why some counties are spending far more on programming, behavioral health care and medical care and why others are not.”

“We also don’t know what outcomes are produced from the increased spending to be able to compare the impact of that spending on incarcerated people on the communities to which they return,” Matos said. “We don’t seem to know exactly why a precipitous increase in funding and staffing has not led to a proportionate increase in spending on programming across the board or a correlated decline in recidivism rate.”

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