An important new study of 122 men and women released from Massachusetts state prisons into Boston neighborhoods in 2012 and 2013 reveals staggering figures about childhood trauma and the role of probation and parole in recidivism. Among the study's findings are these, written up by the Marshall Project:
It’s no surprise that former prisoners are likely to be poor, and that many have had troubled upbringings. And yet, the magnitude of childhood trauma among the study participants is stunning. Over 40 percent said they had witnessed a homicide. Half had been physically abused by their parents (spanking did not count) and a third had witnessed domestic violence.
Though there is a large body of research on how childhood trauma affects future health and achievement in school and at work, the Boston study is one of the first to look specifically at the link between childhood trauma and incarceration, Western said.
The researchers have yet to release their findings on which former prisoners in the study were most likely to return to prison or jail, and why. Yet Western said there is a paradox emerging in the data: Those on parole and probation, and thus under the closest supervision, were more likely to be re-incarcerated. They were arrested most often not for committing new crimes, but for violating the rules of probation or parole.
Automatic re-incarceration for those violations “needs careful review,” Western said. “At times it feels like the system is simply cavalier in its treatment of the deprivation of liberty.”
Law enforcement agencies nationwide are investing hundreds of millions of dollars of precious tax payer funds in high-tech surveillance equipment and tracking systems. So-called 'predictive policing', data-driven hot-spot policing combined with secret computer algorithms, is the latest rage in the policing business.
But as studies like this one make clear, many people commit crimes and end up in prison for complex reasons related to poverty and trauma—problems spy technologies cannot and will not solve. No surveillance camera will fix the underlying economic, social, and political conditions driving much criminal activity. If we want to make our communities safer and healthier, we should invest in good jobs, quality education, and mental health programs that interrupt cycles of abuse and trauma. Surveillance systems widely in place in cities nationwide don't interrupt these cycles. Too often they exacerbate them, by putting oppressed and marginalized people in cages and under strict systems of state control. The Boston Reentry Study results provide yet more evidence that instead of license plate trackers, GPS bracelets, and stingray cell phone spying systems, what people really need is empathy and basic economic justice.