State spending on the criminal justice system has grown faster than almost any other state service, including public health and higher education. In 2009, Massachusetts spent more than $1.2 billion on prisons, jails, parole and probation.
Corrections spending grew dramatically during recent years and hasn't faced big cutbacks during the recession.
Between 1998 and 2008:
- Department of Correction spending increased 12 percent
- The probation budget increased 160 percent
- Public health budget decreased 3 percent
- The higher education budget decreased 7.5 percent
- Local aid to cities and towns decreased 1 percent
The report (PDF) argues that the budget for prisons and parole has ballooned disproportionately to the size of the prison population, and the increase in spending hasn't helped reduce recidivism or overcrowding.
"As a state we are falling behind ... primarily because of some of the policies and laws that have been passed over the last 10 years," said Len Engel, of Boston's Crime and Justice Institute, who wrote the report.
Engels recommends rethinking mandatory minimum sentence laws. Those laws assign five-year prison terms for many drug-related non-violent offenses.
State public safety officials would not comment on the report's findings.
This program aired on December 3, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.