The headline on the Globe’s lead front-page story March 25, “Crime down, prison costs up,” might have raised some readers’ eyebrows. Doesn’t spending more money to lock up more criminals reduce crime? Not necessarily. It turns out that crime and prisons have less to do with one another than most people think.
The crime rate in Massachusetts has been falling steadily since 1992. Meanwhile, the prison population has risen, fallen, risen, fallen, and risen again. Today we have roughly the crime rate we had in 1968, but more than five times as many prisoners. While crime was falling in Massachusetts, it was falling in just about every other state around the country. However, crime rates fell further in states that incarcerated fewer additional people.
In the last five years, thanks to smart legislative reforms and forward-thinking policies, prison populations and crime have fallen in every state north of New Jersey — except for Massachusetts. It’s time to get ahead of the curve and focus our resources on solutions proven to protect public safety while reducing our dangerously oversized corrections budget.