New MassINC study finds the number of inmates in state and county correctional facilities keeps falling, but correctional budgets are still going up in Massachusetts

New research from the nonpartisan think MassINC shows correctional budgets are still rising even as the number of individuals in state and county correctional facilities falls precipitously. These revealing new figures come as leaders on Beacon Hill look for ways to help agencies cover the costs they will incur in order to comply with legislation Governor Baker signed last month to improve the performance of the criminal justice system.

According to the report, the number of inmates held in state and county correctional facilities in Massachusetts dropped 21 percent over the past eight years, yet correctional budgets are moving in the opposite direction, increasing by nearly 25 percent, or $254 million, to almost $1.4 billion annually, under the FY 2019 budget making its way through the legislature this month.

With falling crime rates and concerted effort to keep those struggling with substance use and mental health disorders out of jail, state and county correctional facilities now hold 5,000 fewer individuals than they did at the beginning of FY 2011. Supervising and caring for fewer inmates should generate savings, yet under the proposed FY 2019 budget, correctional spending will have grown over and above the pace of inflation by $117 million since 2011.

“Correctional budgets clearly have some slack” said Ben Forman, MassINC’s research director and co-author of the report. “If more dollars were going to provide job training, education, and other services that reduce the likelihood individuals reoffend when they get out, that would be one thing, but it appears that bigger budgets are mostly going to hire more correctional officers or increase staff pay.”

Since 2011, the correctional population at both county sheriffs’ departments and the state Department of Correction (DOC) is down by more than 20 percent, yet total compensation at both the sheriffs’ departments and the DOC is up by about 20 percent.

The DOC actually reduced employee headcount (-11 percent), but salaries have grown by 35 percent since 2011, which has more than offset savings from lower staff levels. As a group, sheriffs’ departments across the state have only increased salaries by 17 percent since 2011, but they have hired more staff (4 percent), even with significantly fewer inmates to serve.

Meet The Author

Llyr Johansen

Communications Director, MassINC

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