Boston Foundation, MassINC, Criminal Justice Reform Coalition produce report on incarceration of city residents

November 10, 2016

Boston - The Boston Foundation’s Boston Indicators Project, MassINC, and the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, released today The Geography of Incarceration: The Cost and Consequences of High Incarceration Rates in Vulnerable City Neighborhoods, a new study that compares the geography of incarceration to the geography of crime in our city.

The report accessed a novel data set from Suffolk County Sherriff Steve Tompkins and depicts how incarcerations have had a disproportionate impact on Boston’s most vulnerable neighborhoods.

“This is needed work because the American criminal justice system is characterized by high incarceration rates, especially for people of color. This produces cascading negative effects, not just on the lives of the imprisoned but on their families, neighborhoods and our city as a whole,” said Paul Grogan, President and CEO of the Foundation.  “I’m hopeful that this work will build on the leadership Chief Justice Gants and the commitment from Governor Baker, Speaker DeLeo and Senate President Rosenberg to work with the Council of State Governments to produce meaningful reform.”

Among the report’s findings, are:

  • Even as Massachusetts has touted its “progressiveness,” incarceration rates have been rising faster in recent years in this state than in the rest of the United States, as a whole.
  • More was spent in 2013 incarcerating Codman Square residents than on statewide gang prevention efforts.
  • The cost of housing all Suffolk County Jail inmates in 2013 was two-and-a-half times the Commonwealth’s combined FY13 budgets for Bunker Hill and Roxbury community colleges and nearly as much as Boston’s combined budgets for Parks and Recreation and Youth and Families departments.


“I think a study of our laws, our practices, our policies in this state with regard to incarceration is long overdue for a comprehensive review, said Wayne Budd, co-chair of the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, Senior Counsel at Goodwin, and former U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts. “I’m struck in looking at the very difficult impact that incarceration policies have on the population generally but more particularly on communities of color. These impacts involve not just those who find themselves on the wrong side of the law, but also their families and loved ones. So a comprehensive look is greatly needed.”

The report was released during a forum at the Boston Foundation that included a panel discussion with Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins, Boston City Councilor Andrea Campbell, State Representative Evandro Carvalho, and John Larivee, President & CEO of Community Resources for Justice. The report recommended a series of reforms, including the redesigning houses of correction so they excel at addressing risks and needs, and eliminating mandatory minimum jail sentences, and in increased focus on diversion and re-entry programming for offenders. A full video of the forum can be viewed here.

“The problems we face are the result of 30 years of get-tough laws, policies, and practices,” said Benjamin Forman, the report’s principal author and MassINC Research Director. “Throughout Boston’s communities of color, incarceration rates are much more elevated than crime rates. In some neighborhoods, nearly every home contains a resident who has been incarcerated. Clearly communities of color bear a disproportionate burden of our failed approach. This report demonstrates the need for a new look at every aspect of our criminal justice system—what our coalition refers to as comprehensive reform.”


The Boston Foundation, Greater Boston’s community foundation, is one of the largest community foundations in the nation, with net assets of about $1 billion. In 2015, the Foundation and its donors paid $135 million in grants to nonprofit organizations and received gifts of $123 million. In celebration of its Centennial in 2015, the Boston Foundation launched the Campaign for Boston to strengthen the Permanent Fund for Boston, the only endowment fund focused on the most pressing needs of Greater Boston. The Foundation is proud to be a partner in philanthropy, with more than 1,000 separate charitable funds established by donors either for the general benefit of the community or for special purposes.

The Boston Foundation also serves as a major civic leader, think tank and advocacy organization, commissioning research into the most critical issues of our time and helping to shape public policy designed to advance opportunity for everyone in Greater Boston. The Philanthropic Initiative (TPI), an operating unit of the Foundation, designs and implements customized philanthropic strategies for families, foundations and corporations around the globe. For more information about the Boston Foundation and TPI, visit or call 617-338-1700.

The Boston Indicators Project has been a primary data resource for Greater Boston for 15 years. Its goals are to democratize access to high quality data and information, foster informed pubic discourse and monitor progress on shared civic goals. In addition to tracking a comprehensive framework of key indicators, the Project produces biennial reports chronicling Boston’s accomplishments on a number of measures as well as the full array of challenges facing the city and region. It also convenes experts and stakeholders, analyzes relevant data, and reviews current research to produce special reports on critical topics, including this report on incarceration in Boston.

The Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth (MassINC) is a rigorously non-partisan think tank and civic organization. It focuses on putting the American Dream within the reach of everyone in Massachusetts using three distinct tools—research, journalism, and civic engagement. MassINC’s work is characterized by accurate data, careful analysis, and unbiased conclusions.