The Patrick Administration has estimated that, if current criminal justice policies are not changed dramatically, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will have to spend $2 billion in the next seven years, to build 10,000 new prison units, as well as $150 million more each year to fill them. Massachusetts already has one of the highest rates of incarceration in the world – on par with French Guiana and Kazakhstan. There are so few opportunities, and so many barriers to successful re-entry, that most (>60%) of prisoners released from DYS, county jails, and prison recidivate within 3 years.
Meanwhile, we are sliding quickly away from a full-employment economy. Businesses are shedding entry-level and middle-class jobs at an alarming rate, as many functions such as check-out clerk and warehouse operator are automated. Massachusetts has lost 100,000 manufacturing jobs just in the last six years.
Other states – including New York, Washington and Texas – have overhauled their criminal justice systems using practices that are proven effective, and so reduced their prison populations that they have closed prisons, saving taxpayers billions of dollars.
Our Jobs NOT Jails Coalition is building the infrastructure to engage thousands of people in a campaign to stop $2 billion of prison construction, and re-direct those funds into creating good jobs for people in low-income, high-crime neighborhoods.
Since September 2014, we have held regular state-wide meetings each attended by 80-110 people, to strategize and form a collective vision. At one of these gatherings this winter, 85 people came together and finalized our formal vision statement: “The Jobs Not Jails movement advances economic and racial justice by ending mass incarceration and ensuring living wage jobs for all.”
In January 2015, we took a big step toward fulfilling that vision, by working with Sen. Chang-Diaz (Boston) and Rep. Mary Keefe (Worcester) to file The Justice Reinvestment Act: An Act to Increase Neighborhood Safety and Opportunity. This omnibus bill will repeal mandatory minimum drug sentences, reduce certain low-level felonies to misdemeanors, allow compassionate release and end collateral sanctions at the RMV. The second half of the bill establishes a trust fund with the savings from these improvements – which may total over $100 million a year! These funds are earmarked for programs to end the total economic marginalization that so many of us face. These include: job training programs, transitional-job and pre-apprenticeship programs, youth jobs, social enterprises and co-ops, and evidence-based programs that help young people stay in school.