It’s Time for Massachusetts to Make a Choice

A recent report by MassINC is shedding light on the judicial practices that have become standard in Massachusetts and how their affecting the state’s budget. Thanks to mandatory minimum sentencing requirements Massachusetts jails are brimming with drug offenders who are becoming quite expensive.

Due in large part to these drug offenders, prison populations have tripled over the past twenty years and high spending numbers have accompanied this rise. 25% of inmates sentenced since 1980 have been for drug offenses and 70% of these inmates are required to serve the state’s minimum sentencing guidelines. The report states that when adjusted for inflation, spending on corrections between 1987 and 2007 has increased by 127%. If big budget cuts and terms like sequestration weren’t flying around this number might not mean much, however when corrections spending rises, the amount spent on other vital services decreases.

One important factor to note is the effect that this corrections spending has had on education spending. Massachusetts will spend 6% more on corrections this year than they will on higher education, while just ten years ago Massachusetts spent 25% more on education than on crime. The time has come where Massachusetts has to decide where they want to invest their money. While it is important to keep the populace safe, a balance has to be struck between the former and fostering education.

How can the state move money back to higher education? This article from has a few scenarios:

  • Reducing the number of inmates convicted of drug offenses to 1985 levels would save $90 million annually.
  • Halting the rising number of prison transfers to maximum security facilities would save $16 million annually.
  • If Massachusetts could reduce the recidivism rate by 5% it would save $150 million. (With 60% of inmates being convicted on new offenses within six years there’s hopefully some wiggle room if more inmates are placed on parole.)