How to stop prison’s revolving door

Worcester County reentry program shows promising results to reduce recidivism, save money

Mary Brolin & Janice Yost, Guest Contributors
CommonWealth Magazine
May 29, 2017

A NEW REPORT from MassINC points to a major challenge for Massachusetts state government. Spending on corrections continues to increase significantly even as the inmate population declines.

At the same time, the cycle of reincarceration remains untenably high. In 2011, Massachusetts Department of Correction (DOC) facilities reported that 44 percent of individuals released from prison were reincarcerated within three years post-release, at an average annual incarceration cost of $53,041 per individual.

The revolving door at our state prisons and county houses of correction is in nobody’s best interest. It shortchanges inmates of a full and fair opportunity to become productive and law-abiding citizens once they serve their sentences and return to the community.

It disproportionately impacts the social fabric and public safety of communities of color. And it creates significant additional expense to taxpayers, not to mention the opportunity cost of spending on corrections instead of other important programs and services.

What is needed is a solution that can significantly lower the recidivism rate and that costs less than incarcerating those who offend again. Just such a program was created in Worcester County six years ago, and the data demonstrate that it was successful on both fronts.
Worcester Initiative for Supported Reentry, or WISR, supported the reentry of 152 men released from state prisons and the Worcester County House of Correction between 2012 and 2016. The program reduced recidivism by 47 percent three years post-release.

WISR was led by human services agency Advocates, Inc., with funding from The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts. The program partnered closely with the state DOC, state Parole Board, Worcester Superior Court Probation, and the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office and House of Correction to provide comprehensive reentry support.