BACH has committed to supporting and promoting the Jobs NOT Jail Coalition, whose goal is to redirect costly prison spending towards jobs, training and support for Massachusetts’ lowest income communities. So why is a community health alliance supporting a criminal justice reform campaign? The answer is simple: because it is an important way to move towards racial and ethnic equity and it can improve health outcomes for families in Boston’s most vulnerable neighborhoods which are predominantly people of color and immigrants.

For the last 40 years, we have been steadily and rapidly increasing the number and percentage of our people that we incarcerate, both in the United States as a whole and here in Massachusetts.  According to a recent report published by MassINC, the incarceration rate in Massachusetts has TRIPLED since the 1980’s.

There is an enormous human cost to families and neighborhoods of caging so many of our people. The advent of mass incarceration has also meant more of our public resources are being consumed by the prison budget. In fiscal year 2013, Massachusetts was already spending $1.28 billion on prisons, probation and parole. This does not include the costs of prosecutors, courts, and other law enforcement budgets. The total for all these costs is over $2.5 billion a year. For the first time, Massachusetts now spends more on prisons than on higher education.

If we do not take action NOW, this trend is only going to get worse. Last year, Massachusetts lawmakers passed a “get tough” “three strikes” law.  It was estimated that Massachusetts would need to spend $1.3 to $2.3 billion construction 10,000 new prison units by 2020, and an additional $150 million to keep people in them.

Additionally, our corrections system is a failure. Massachusetts Commission on Criminal Justice by the Pew Centers’ Results First assessed that the recidivism rates for every level of punishment (DYS, County Jails, DOC, parole and probation) all exceed 60%. In other words, most people who go through the system end up going through it again.

Jobs Not Jails Coalition is working to channel funding from a failing system towards education and jobs, which are key predicators for healthy communities. It is an umbrella campaign, bringing together a diverse array of people who care about the future of our economy, and about the damage that mass incarceration is doing to our communities. The coalition is made up of dozens of organizations who are leading separate legislative strategies – for everything from a higher minimum wage to the creation of an innocence commission.

Law-makers need to know what we, their constituents, want.  Too often we hear legislators say, “My constituents want me to be tougher on ‘criminals’, even if it actually leads to more crime.”  We need to let them know that we, the voters, appreciate careful and thoughtful strategies to address the root causes of crime – poverty, desperation, mental illness and addiction – rather than damning people to decades of “busting rocks” for low-level offenses.

Learn how you can support the goals of Jobs NOT Jails and criminal justice reform, here.

 

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