What to do with the state’s half-empty prison system
Ben Forman featured in CommonWealth Magazine
March 19, 2022
MASSACHUSETTS IS POCKMARKED by a web of correctional facilities, 484 buildings in total with nearly 10 million square feet of space among them. Picture the Hancock, the Pru, the Boston Convention Center, the Hynes Convention Center, the DCU Center, and the MassMutual Center. Together, these cavernous buildings couldn’t hold half of the space contained in our prisons and jails.This mountain of carceral real estate is the product of tough on crime laws, which tripled Massachusetts’s incarceration rate between the 1980s and 2000s. In recent years, crime prevention, treatment, and other level-headed approaches to public safety have taken hold. These evidence-based practices are keeping thousands of people out of prison each year. As a result, correctional facilities across the state now sit half-empty. Yet the cost of maintaining and operating them keeps rising—a year at a state prison is approaching $100,000, about $25,000 more than a year at Harvard.