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Advocates say Massachusetts prison system is setting inmates up to fail

I-Team: Advocates say Massachusetts prison system is setting inmates up to fail
I-Team: Advocates say Massachusetts prison system is setting inmates up to fail 03:17

BOSTON - With the average prison stay in Massachusetts lasting four years, most incarcerated people do get released. But while they are in prison, are they getting the education and job training they need to keep them from going back?

Mac Hudson went to prison at 17 and spent 33 years behind bars for what, he said, was mostly for a crime that he did not commit.

Hudson is now out on parole and working with Prison Legal Services. He told the I-Team that few inside prison are getting the education or are taught the skills to make it on the outside. "I feel like we are purposely being set up to fail," Hudson said.

Being set up to fail because advocates say programs like the dog training and dozens of others listed in the Department of Correction 2023 brochure are not always available or open to everyone. "The majority of those programs that are listed there don't exist. Then, there are some programs that used to exist that no longer exist," Hudson said.

The Department of Correction's Fiscal year 2024 budget is more than $800 million, but the I-Team found less than 2% is earmarked for educational opportunities and reentry programs. 

Bonnie Tenneriello is with Prison Legal Services, and she said that is a mistake. "It doesn't work," she said. "They get out of prison, and when you have warehoused them and treated them inhumanely, you are setting them up to fail when they get out." 

The I-Team found the average annual cost to house an inmate in Massachusetts is more than $178,000. 

"We are one of the most expensive prison systems in the country," State Representative Erika Uyterhoeven said. "Currently there are only 113 individuals that are incarcerated students in a higher degree education program. That's out of over 6,000 incarcerated people. That is across the board shameful numbers for a department that costs taxpayers $800 million a year. "

The Department of Correction shared recent photos from a Tufts University graduation at MCI Concord. 

In a statement, a DOC spokesperson said, "The Massachusetts Department of Correction's collaborative and results-driven approach to education, in-demand job skills training, and transformative mentorships has reduced recidivism to a historic low. The Department works closely with numerous strategic partners, including community service providers and educators, in our shared mission to address the complex needs of the more than 6,000 individuals in our care, facilitate lasting rehabilitation, and promote successful reentry for those preparing for life after incarceration."

Tenneriello said Massachusetts has made a lot of progress in funding reentry programs after prison, but "it has not done the same work to help people while they're in prison to give them opportunities inside to help prepare them for when they get out."

Records show the state released 1,360 incarcerated people in 2022. Advocates fear most are leaving prison unprepared and unskilled, with little chance of breaking the cycle. 

Hudson said for many it's sink or swim when they get out, which he calls a greater concern for the diverse released population. "The unfortunate consequence is that most folks don't get service, particularly at the bottom, Black and Brown folks who really don't get service at the end of it," Hudson said. 

Recently, five incarcerated men at NCCI Gardner filed a lawsuit against the Department of Correction alleging it is not providing them with the programs they need to be eligible for clemency or parole.

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