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The JAILS Problem

For the last 40 years, we have been steadily and rapidly increasing the number and percentage of our people that we incarcerate, both in the United States as a whole and here in Massachusetts.  According to a recent report published by MassINC , the incarceration rate in Massachusetts has TRIPLED since the 1980’s. HERE

See HERE for a graph of incarceration rates nationally since 1925.

The rate of incarceration in Massachusetts places us on par with Kazakhstan and French Guiana, which are among the worst ten countries in the world in terms of incarceration.  HERE

In addition to the enormous human cost to families and neighborhoods of caging so many of our people, the advent of mass incarceration has also meant more of our public resources are being consumed by the prison budget.  In fiscal year 2013, Massachusetts is already spending $1.28 billion on prisons, probation and parole. HERE  This does not include the costs of prosecutors, courts, and other law enforcement budgets.  The total for all these costs is over $2.5 billion a year.

As these costs have grown, they are squeezing out funding for vital public goods such as public education, health care and local aid.  For the first time, Massachusetts now spends more on prisons than on higher education.  HERE

If we do not take action NOW, this trend is only going to get worse. Last year, Massachusetts lawmakers passed a “get tough” “three strikes” law.  Even before this law was enacted, the Patrick Administration estimated that Massachusetts would need to spend $1.3 to $2.3 billion construction 10,000 new prison units by 2020, and an additional $150 million to keep people in them.  HERE

As if the cost weren’t bad enough, our corrections system is a failure.  According to statistics recently reported to the Massachusetts Commission on Criminal Justice by the Pew Centers’ Results First analysis, the recidivism rates for every level of punishment (DYS, County Jails, DOC, parole and probation) all exceed 60%.  In other words, most people who go through the system end up going through it again.

As State Representative Paul Heroux, who used to work for the Department of Corrections puts it, “prisons are criminogenic.”  Our current system of caging people, providing little to no rehabilitative services, failing to treat mental illness and addiction, and hitting people with fees and sanctions upon release – actually results in more crime.

It also results in less employment.  “On average, former inmates earn

40 percent less annually than they would have had they not been sent to prison.61 Based on this national figure, formerly incarcerated workers in Massachusetts lose approximately $760 million in wages annually. For the state, this amounts to as much as $20 million a year in reduced tax collections relative to 1987 incarceration rates.  HERE

The impact of these policies has been most devastating on communities of color.  On the national level, “although experts have found little statistical difference among racial groups regarding actual drug use, African-Americans–who make up about 12% of the total U.S. population–accounted for 37% of those arrested on drug charges, 59% of those convicted, and 74% of all drug offenders sentenced to prison.” HERE

The impact of racism within the Massachusetts system is even worse than in other states.  According to the MassINC report, “The most recent data, published in 2005, revealed that incarceration rates for African-Americans in Massachusetts were eight times higher than for white residents. For Latino residents, the state’s incarceration rate was six times higher than for whites. At 1,229 per 100,000 residents, Massachusetts had the fourth highest Latino incarceration rate in the United States.”

While the vast majority of people in prison are there because of crimes directly related to drugs and alcohol, and while Massachusetts taxpayers spend an estimated $4.5 billion (or 21.8% of the entire state budget) on the fallout from addiction, we spend very little on prevention and treatment of addiction: $66 million annually, or 0.32% of the state budget.  HERE

There is agreement across the political spectrum that these policies must be changed dramatically. The MassINC report, which calls for a moratorium on building new prison units, is backed by Republican former U.S. Attorney Wayne Budd, and many of the policies that we call for are supported by Right on Crime, whose members include Republican luminaries Jeb Bush and Newt Gingrich.

However, in order for Massachusetts lawmakers to act on the information at hand, it is up to Massachusetts voters to show them we’re not stupid, and we know that reforms such as pre-trial diversion to drug treatment are not “soft on crime.”

The JOBS Problem

The United States has been sliding away from a full-employment economy for 40 years, and the pace of that slide is accelerating rapidly.  In particular, low-skill entry-level jobs are being replaced by machines or by people working for poverty wages overseas.  Click HERE for a video analysis of technology and employment in today’s economy.

In this context, new labor practices such as shift-splitting are becoming the norm.  Companies are offering only part-time work – and “part-time” can mean irregular 3- or 4-hour shifts that pay little more than the cost of getting to work.  With irregular hours, it’s harder to even piece together full-time work with multiple part-time jobs.

Workers have little say in the conditions of their employment, as only 14.6% of employed Massachusetts workers are members of labor unions. HERE

Massachusetts is sliding even faster than other parts of the country.  Some key findings of the “Mass Jobs” report produced by MassINC and the Center for Labor Market Studies, HERE, include:

  •  Massachusetts is still down roughly 100,000 payroll jobs from the peak of 2001 and is one of only seven states that has still not recovered all of the payroll jobs that it had at the peak of the business cycle.
  • In the last six years alone, the state has shed, on net, more than 100,000 manufacturing jobs, and these recent losses come on the heels of large job losses in previous decades.
  •  The Massachusetts economy is becoming highly specialized with great rewards for those with the requisite levels of education and skills and fewer options for everyone else. This trend, which is occurring nationally as the U.S. economy continues to be reshaped by the global economy, appears to be happening at an accelerated pace in Massachusetts.

Does this mean that Massachusetts lags behind other states in economic development?  On the contrary, it means we are ahead, in our progression toward an economy increasingly independent of labor.  What happens here will soon be happening in other parts of the country.

On the local level, many Massachusetts neighborhoods have been locked in poverty for decades, with unemployment rates at depression-era levels even before the recent recession.  Racism remains a big factor, not only in the legacy of past stolen wages (leading to a $236,500 average wealth gap between black and white families) HERE, but also in current-day employability.  Black applicants are as little as half as likely to receive a call back from an employer as equally qualified white applicants.  HERE

Most “jobs bills” do not target long-term unemployment in low-income neighborhoods.  For example, even Massachusetts’ badly underfunded “One-Stop Career Centers” are only tailored to serve people with strong work histories and low barriers to employment.

$2 Billion for JOBS, not JAILS