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Massachusetts among states taking steps to reduce prison population

The overcrowding of U.S. prisons has been a long-standing and well-documented problem. The financial costs associated with incarceration are significant and, according to the U.S. government, during 2014, the average cost of incarceration per inmate was $30,619.85. In addition to the significant financial costs, incarceration also takes an enormous personal toll on the individuals and families who are affected.

With several states and the federal government seeking reforms to mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker recently signed a bill that repealed a law which required the mandatory "driver's license suspension for those convicted of drug crimes."

The state legislature's decision to repeal the law was applauded by many who argued that it only served to further impede the efforts of individuals who have served out the terms of their sentences and are simply “trying to rebuild their lives." With the repeal of the 27-year-old law, advocates for criminal justice reform now have their sights set on an overhaul of the state's mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws.

Critics of these laws argue that they are outdated relics from the 1980s-era's "War on Drugs" and, in most cases, do more harm than good. They argue that the focus should be on rehabilitation and reducing recidivism rates for non-violent drug offenders and are hopeful that the results of an ongoing Massachusetts study that is being commissioned by the Council of State Governments will help bring about these shifts in policy and philosophy.

For the ongoing study, Massachusetts state agencies are sharing and tracking information with a goal of developing policy options that focus on reducing recidivism rates and also "state spending on prisons." Recommendations that come out of the study are expected to be introduced next year. 

Source: WCVB-TV, "Criminal justice review seeks shift from prisons in Massachusetts," April 2, 2016

Boston Globe, "New law eliminates license suspension for many drug crimes," David Scharfenberg, March 30, 2016

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