Boston criminal lawyer Kevin J. Mahoney on Recidivism
Tough sentencing laws in Massachusetts purport to be designed to increase public safety, but all too often they place individuals in jail—or even prison—for non-violent offenses that might be better dealt with another way. What’s more, these laws cost taxpayers a significant amount of money, but provide little benefit.
Harsh Penalties, and for What?
Do we really want an 18-year-old boy who makes a stupid mistake to live the rest of his life in a prison jacket? We all want the streets of Massachusetts to be safe and pleasant, but at what cost? At one time prisons existed for incarcerating those whose offenses were severe enough that removal from society was necessary for the public good. Generally inmates sent to prison were those who were convicted of violent offenses, like rape and murder.
Today’s Massachusetts prisons, however, are filled to the brim with individuals whose crimes are non-violent, such as drug manufacturers and dealers. As a result, the inmate population has more than tripled in the past 30 years, and costs citizens over $1 billion annually. This cost is expected to double in the next ten years.
A recent study by MassINC sheds light on the depth of this problem. Not only are taxpayers of this state paying a high cost to incarcerate a large number of individuals, no apparent positive effect is being realized: recidivism is rampant.
The Cycle of Incarceration
MassINC’s report indicates that six in ten individuals who are released from prison or jail recommit and are back behind bars within six years. Recidivism has long been a problem for inmates. The longer one spends behind bars, the more he becomes “institutionalized,” which is to say the inmate becomes accustomed to prison life. Upon release, the institutionalized individual has even more trouble adjusting to life outside. Few programs help such an individual, who finds himself in a world where no one wants to hire him or have him live nearby. Eventually such individuals tend to return to their old ways and find themselves back behind bars. Simply threatening a stiff sentence for a second offense does little to dissuade the recidivist.
We are Paying to Incarcerate 11,000 People
Every day of the year individuals parole from Massachusetts prisons. However, at least as many go to prison, and often not for the first time. Recidivists tend to fall into a vicious cycle and eventually do life on the installment plan. 11,000 such individuals reside in our state prisons. It should be clear by now that imposing harsh sentences does little to prevent an offender from committing a crime again. Rather than throw more good money after bad, we should reconsider what we ultimately want for these individuals—if it is to re-shape them into citizens who can return to society and be productive and compliant with the law, we need to begin thinking outside the box—or prison cell—to come up with ways that will help them refocus their lives and thinking.
Call Boston Criminal Lawyer Kevin J. Mahoney
If you have been accused of a crime, call us at 617-492-0055 to schedule a free in-office consultation.
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