Lois Ahrens: The costs of incarceration 

Published: 02-27-2023 4:31 PM

Regarding the Feb. 10 Gazette article, “Report: fewer students enrolling,” in the last two decades, Massachusetts experienced a 20% funding cut for public higher education per student. Additionally, the state ranks 37th in providing financial aid to students, according to another recent report published by the Hildreth Institute, a Boston organization that focuses on equity in higher education. That report revealed students in the commonwealth have faced a 47% cut in financial aid over the past two decades. “We haven’t kept pace — now we’re near bottom in our investment in public higher education,” state Sen. Jo Comerford said in the article. “Every dollar we put into public higher education, college or university will return many times over in ... robust economic activity.”

When it comes to the cost of incarceration per prisoner, Massachusetts ranks at the top along with California ($131,339) and New York ($556,539! You are reading that right). This is from the report MA Department of Correction Expenditures and Staffing Levels for Fiscal 2022 (Gordon Haas).

“Highlights: The average annual cost per prisoner in FY 2022 was $127,736 or a 16% increase over Fiscal 2021. Total expenditures by the DOC in FY 2022 exceeded $760 million, a 5.7% increase from FY 2021. The Massachusetts prisoner population as of Jan. 1, 2022 was 5,962, a decrease of 591 or 9% from the state’s total prisoner population on Jan 1, 2021 of 6,553, http://www.realcostofprisons.org/writing/haas-expenditures-and-staffing-levels-for-2022.pdf.

The $760 million is for state prisons only. For jails/Houses of Correction in 2022, add on $685 million to incarcerate approximately 6,000 people. More than half of whom are being held pre-trial, most because they cannot pay bail. In the four western Massachusetts counties the cost of jails to taxpayers was approximately $147 million in 2022. With our acquiescence, year after year, these are the choices Massachusetts legislators and governors make. This will continue until we tell them no!

Lois Ahrens, director of the Real Cost of Prisons Project