BOSTON — Attorney General Martha Coakley said the state should take some of the money it's spending "warehousing" nonviolent offenders and help inmates get job training or pass the GED high school equivalency test.
The Democratic candidate for governor made the comments Thursday after visiting an early childhood center in Boston. Coakley said if elected she would push to reduce barriers to learning from pre-kindergarten through high school.
Coakley was asked about comments she made earlier in the week in Wellesley arguing that the state has "lost that war" by spending a lot of money putting people in jail and not enough on education.
"We could take some of the money we invest in houses of correction and prisons and do a better job on intervention and prevention as well as providing not just a chance to get out of jail, but a chance to get a GED, get job training," Coakley said.
Coakley defended the comments Thursday.
"For those nonviolent offenders who in some instance we have been warehousing we need to have a better solution than paying $40,000 or 50,000 a year," Coakley told reporters. She said the state also needs to take another look at long mandatory minimum sentences which leave little discretion for judges, adding "I do believe that we have spent too much money on that end of things."
Massachusetts Republican Party Chair Kirsten Hughes called Coakley's comments "bizarre" and accused her of "giving up on putting people in jail."
Coakley said as governor she would also work to close a persistent "achievement gap," that has seen white students outscore black and Hispanic students while Asian students scored at or above the level of white students.
Coakley's education proposals include: expanding the school day and decreasing the length of summer vacation; improving access to early childhood education programs; and making sure there are more counselors to make sure children in struggling school districts get the services they need.
Coakley did not say how she would pay for the programs, but said new taxes would be a last resort. She said she would look to cut spending in other areas of state government, but offered few specifics.
Also Thursday, fellow Democratic gubernatorial candidate Juliette Kayyem said her campaign would focus on the economy, veterans' affairs, energy, and criminal justice reforms.
A key challenge, she said, will be figuring out which new industries have staying power.
"What are the jobs that are going to come here and stay here?" Kayyem said in comments to the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association. She said her administration would work with innovative young mayors around the state to overcome transportation and infrastructure hurdles.
The former Homeland Security official and terrorism analyst also reflected on Boston's future as it regains confidence and rethinks security in the aftermath of the marathon bombings, pledging to "make government work when it matters most."
Kayyem acknowledged her underdog status as an untested newcomer to statewide politics.
"I'll give you a scoop: I will screw up on the campaign trail. My goal will be to screw up less than my competitors, and to do it when the Red Sox are winning the Super Bowl," she joked.
Other Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls include state Treasurer Steven Grossman, Newton pediatrician Don Berwick, and former Wellesley Selectman Joseph Avellone.
Former Harvard Pilgrim Health Care CEO Charlie Baker is the only Republican in the race.
Associated Press writer William J. Kole contributed to this report.