Massachusetts has an incarceration rate of 275 per 100,000 people (including prisons, jails, immigration detention, and juvenile justice facilities), meaning that it locks up a higher percentage of its people than almost any democracy on earth. Read on to learn more about who is incarcerated in Massachusetts and why.
Jump to COVID-19 data.
22,000 people from Massachusetts are behind bars
Additionally, the number of people impacted by county and city jails in Massachusetts is much larger than the graph above would suggest, because people cycle through local jails relatively quickly. Each year, at least 70,000 different people are booked into local jails in Massachusetts.
Rates of imprisonment have grown dramatically in the last 40 years
Also see these Massachusetts graphs:
Today, Massachusetts’s incarceration rates stand out internationally
In the U.S., incarceration extends beyond prisons and local jails to include other systems of confinement. The U.S. and state incarceration rates in this graph include people held by these other parts of the justice system, so they may be slightly higher than the commonly reported incarceration rates that only include prisons and jails. Details on the data are available in States of Incarceration: The Global Context. We also have a version of this graph focusing on the incarceration of women.
People of color are overrepresented in prisons and jails
See also our detailed graphs about Whites,
in Massachusetts prisons and jails.
Massachusetts's criminal justice system is more than just its prisons and jails
Data on COVID-19 in Massachusetts jails and prisons
We gave Massachusetts a "D" grade in September 2021 for its response to the coronavirus in prisons, noting that:
- Massachusetts prioritized incarcerated people in their vaccination plans, and was able to vaccinate 75% of their incarcerated population.
- Low rates of staff vaccinations are leading to an uptick in cases among incarcerated population.
For more detail, see our report States of Emergency. Or check out these other resources:
- Our Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic page tracks criminal justice policy responses to the coronavirus all 50 states
- State prison and jail population data for May, August, September, December 2020, and February, June, October 2021 (data availability varies by state)
- As of late April 2021, only 67% of corrections staff in Massachusetts prisons had gotten the COVID-19 vaccine
- How crowded are Massachusetts prisons, as of December 2020?
- How many COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts communities can be linked to outbreaks in correctional facilities? (data from our report Mass Incarceration, COVID-19, and Community Spread)
- As of August 2020, Massachusetts prisons were not even requiring staff to wear masks at work
- Massachusetts was right to suspend all medical copays in prisons at the beginning of the pandemic. The state should make this change permanent
Our other articles about Massachusetts
Our advocacy in Massachusetts
The Prison Policy Initiative is headquartered in Easthampton, Massachusetts. In addition to our national research, we have joined and led several campaigns for criminal justice reform in Massachusetts, including the following:
Protecting family communication and contact in Massachusetts
Sentencing enhancement zones in Massachusetts
Prison-based gerrymandering in Massachusetts
Protecting women from harsh punishments in Massachusetts
Our other victories and advocacy in Massachusetts
- Massachusetts removes major roadblock to re-entry: unnecessary license suspensions
- Ending harmful driver's license suspensions in Massachusetts
- Massachusetts Chief Justice Gants cites our research, calls for reform
- Prison Policy Initiative helps overturn a harmful banishment ordinance in Massachusetts
- Affidavit of Peter Wagner, August 14, 2006 in opposition to a Revere, MA city ordinance that would banish people classified as level 3 sex offenders from the city.
- Mass. Legislature should pass Innocence Commission bill
- Prison Policy Initiative on Massachusetts's counter-productive plan to charge prisoners for their incarceration
Do you know where the children are? A Report of Massachusetts Youth Unlawfully Held Without Bail, by Barbara Fedders (Criminal Justice Institute at Harvard Law School and Prison Policy Initiative Board Member) and Barbara Kaban (Children’s Law Center), September 15, 2006
- Jim Crow in Massachusetts? Prisoner disenfranchisement, by Peter Wagner, October 31, 2004.
- Massachusetts Disenfranchises its Prisoners November 2000, written for Mass Dissent