Geography of Incarceration Part II | City of Ideas

Posted 11/11/2016 by James Burnett, Director of Public Relations & Social Media

We all know that incarceration - as in who's jailed, when, and why - has been a political and social hot potato for a very long time.

But the Foundation's Boston Indicators Project, in partnership with MassINC and its Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, examined the matter in terms of "where."

This forum and report did just that, because many experts have come to acknowledge that the negative domino effect of some incarceration hits not just jailed individuals but their families and their neighborhoods. And the blows aren't just emotional or psychological. Hyper-local economies are impacted too.

“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.”

And you could argue that if people didn't want their families and neighbors negatively impacted they shouldn't do things that will land them behind bars. You could argue that, but it would be a short-sighted argument since credible researchers say that there is evidence that residents of some communities are jailed for behavior that in other communities often result in treatment of some sort. Further, credible experts say that diversionary programs and services like intensive counseling and job training are often more effective than jailing for certain infractions.

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.

Soak that up for a  moment: We spent more jailing people in a single Boston neighborhood than we spent in the entire Commonwealth to discourage and prevent people from engaging in gang activity.

How did we get to this point? Forman, the reports author said: “The problems we face are the result of 30 years of get-tough laws, policies, and practices. 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.”

Wayne Budd, co-chair of the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, Senior Counsel at Goodwin, and a former U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, seconded Forman's sentiment.

“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, Budd said “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.”

Criticisms deserve solutions, though. And the report recommends, among other reforms: the redesigning houses of correction so they excel at addressing risks and needs, eliminating mandatory minimum jail sentences, and in increased focus on diversion and re-entry programming for offenders.

Even if you don't have time to watch the entire video, check out the portions I highlighted above. They're eye-opening.

Have a great weekend, folks.


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