Private prisons are a controversial topic in Arizona ever since the July escape of three violent offenders from a private prison near the city of Kingman. The controversy, however, has not stopped a state commission from suggesting that more private prisons — not less — might be the answer to the state’s budget crisis.
Missouri is now providing its judges with a “Sentencing Assessment Report” (SAR), a document which informs the judge of the cost of the sentence that he or she will imminently deliver. A recent New York Times article explains how it works:
“For someone convicted of endangering the welfare of a child, for instance, a judge might now learn that a three-year prison sentence would run more than $37,000 while probation would cost $6,770. A second-degree robber, a judge could be told, would carry a price tag of less than $9,000 for five years of intensive probation, but more than $50,000 for a comparable prison sentence and parole afterward. The bill for a murderer’s 30-year prison term: $504,690.”
Missouri’s SARs may or may not be a good idea — but they are certainly a controversial idea: “The practice has touched off a sharp debate. It has been lauded nationally by a disparate group of defense lawyers and fiscal conservatives, who consider it an overdue tool that will force judges to ponder alternatives to prison more seriously. But critics — prosecutors especially — dismiss the idea as unseemly. They say that the cost of punishment is an irrelevant consideration when deciding a criminal’s fate and that there is a risk of overlooking the larger social costs of crime.”
The last issue of The Atlantic Monthly featured a fascinating article on the use of GPS monitoring as a more effective – and less costly – alternative to prison. The author of the piece, Graeme Wood, analogizes GPS surveillance to philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s idea of The Panopticon. He writes:
“Inside the Panopticon (the name is derived from the Greek word for “all-seeing”), the prisoners are arranged in a ring of cells surrounding their guard, who is concealed in a tower in the center. The idea is that the guard controls the prisoners through his presumed observation: they constantly imagine his eyes on them, even when he’s looking elsewhere. Bentham promoted the concept of the Panopticon for much the same reasons that spur criminal-justice innovation today—a ballooning prison population and the need for a cheap solution with light manpower demands. Whereas the guard in Bentham’s day had only two eyes, however, today’s watcher can be virtually all-seeing, thanks to GPS monitoring technology.”
The rest of the article, in which Wood digs into the theory, technology, and practice of GPS monitoring makes for interesting reading.
Nevertheless, GPS surveillance is certainly not a panacea. For instance, violent criminals and sex offenders should not be given GPS monitored probation – they should be put in prison. For some lower-level offenders, however, GPS increasingly looks like a more sensible alternative.
According to The Omaha World-Herald, Nebraska may seek to alleviate its prison overcrowding crisis (the state prison system is 40% over capacity) by transferring the inmates to county jails.
If you find it disturbing that 1 in every 31 adults in America are under correctional supervision (and you should), then you will probably find it downright startling to learn that 1 in every 13 adults in Georgia is in the corrections system.
A new ediotorial in the citizen notes that Georgia has more adults under correctional supervision than any other state. Where there are problems, however, there are also opportunities, and this editorial argues that is up to Georgia’s new governor, Nathan Deal, to seize this opportunity.