Gateway City leadership on criminal justice reform
The Gateway Cities Journal
Watching Gateway City leaders over the years, I’ve come to admire their work ethic. Whether it’s putting together complex redevelopment projects, fighting for school improvement, or closing holes in municipal budgets, they have a penchant for stepping up and solving difficult problems. As our latest research report shows, corrections reform is yet another issue calling out for our Gateway leadership.
Mapping the Worcester County Sheriff’s intake data, we found that on some Worcester streets, admissions to correctional facilities come from home after home. Within the span of a single year, a single neighborhood saw 350 admissions to the county’s correctional facilities. Another neighborhood lost one out of every 10 young men to incarceration between 2009 and 2015.
How much public safety benefit residents of these neighborhoods are getting from these incarcerations is questionable. Most Worcester residents serving time in county correctional facilities suffer from addiction and mental illness. Treating these conditions in correctional settings is more costly and less effective. And the state doesn’t not receive reimbursement for care provided in correctional facilities because incarcerated individuals typically lose their insurance coverage.
A close look at how much this is costing highlights the need for a change in course. The state spends approximately $25 million a year incarcerating residents from Worcester neighborhoods; double state spending on Quinsigamond Community College. The $3.6 million spent incarcerating residents of Worcester’s Main South neighborhood is twice the city’s entire economic development budget.
Crime is relatively low and social and economic conditions in Worcester are far better than most cities with a strong industrial legacy. If incarceration is occurring at this level in Worcester, it is likely at least as problematic in other Gateway Cities.
Gateway City leaders appreciate how their communities have been hammered by the loss of manufacturing jobs and the movement of middle class families out to the suburbs. But they must also recognize the extent to which tough-on-crime policies adopted around the same time have hit urban communities with equally brutal force. Unlike manufacturing change and suburbanization, failed tough-on-crime policies are entirely of our own making. With legislators on Beacon Hill debating changes to the criminal justice system this fall, Gateway City leaders have an opportunity to push for changes that will fix a costly problem disproportionately effecting their residents
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“You would think that locking people up who are creating disorder is always beneficial, but if you’re putting a lot of people away for nonviolent offenses, it reduces the stigma attached to going to prison and makes it less of a deterrent,” Ben Forman, research director at MassINC, said in announcing the results of the Sept. 25 report.
Titled “The Geography of Incarceration in a Gateway City,” the 18-page report confirms what many would suspect: The bulk of people placed behind bars live in rougher neighborhoods. But by presenting the data alongside other neighborhood measures – voting records and school discipline, chiefly – it suggests that poor neighborhoods may be caught in a cycle of crime driven, as opposed to relieved by, incarceration of law-breakers.
“For ages, what we’ve been doing is incarcerating people with addiction,” Dr. Matilde Castiel, Worcester commissioner of health and human services, said Friday. “It’s a vicious cycle that needs to end.” Read more…
Editorial: Cost of tough-on-crime policies do not add up
Want children educated? Fund education. Safe streets? Fund public safety. And so on.
But lost in the discussion over our priorities and values is a question central to the efficacy of our government: Is money being spent in a way that achieves the desired results?
Fear often trumps levelheaded reasoning when it comes to criminal justice policy in Massachusetts. With audience-hungry news broadcasts constantly fanning the flames, counterproductive laws have accumulated like weeds on a long neglected lot. This has repercussions for everyone, but the pain is especially sharp in Gateway Cities. If these communities are going to provide solid pathways to the American dream in a challenging economy, we must confront this reality.
A new report from the nonpartisan think-tank MassINC demonstrates the extent to which the overuse of incarceration hurts Gateway Cities by mapping the Worcester County Sheriff’s intake data: On some Worcester streets, admissions to correctional facilities come from home after home; a downtown Worcester neighborhood lost one out of every 10 young men to incarceration between 2009 and 2015; within the span of a single year, another neighborhood saw 350 admissions to the county’s correctional facilities. Read more…
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