The Conservative Case Against More Prisons

Our policy experts Vikrant Reddy and Marc Levin wrote an excellent piece recently for The American Conservative magazine. It’s entitled, “The Conservative Case Against More Prisons” and appeared in the latest issue of the magazine.

Here is an excerpt:

There are other ways to hold offenders—particularly nonviolent ones—accountable. These alternatives when properly implemented can lead to greater public safety and increase the likelihood that victims of crime will receive restitution. The alternatives are also less costly. Prisons are expensive (in some states, the cost of incarcerating an inmate for one year approaches $60,000), and just as policymakers should scrutinize government expenditures on social programs and demand accountability, they should do the same when it comes to prison spending. None of this means making excuses for criminal behavior; it simply means “thinking outside the cell” when it comes to punishment and accountability.


Missouri Employs Families to Combat Delinquency

The juvenile justice system, in a sense, functions to replace a core family function: discipline of a child. While this is an important governmental role in some cases, it is necessary to ensure that families are not unnecessarily displaced, and in fact included in juvenile justice to the highest degree possible.

This is why family based juvenile justice programs often are very successful. Such programs return parents to their natural role of disciplinarian, and ensure that parents and youths are able to move forward with as little state involvement as possible.

Jackson County, Missouri, has adopted this precept with their Family Court program. The Family Court uses Parenting with Love and Limits theories, which seek to arm parents with the tools they need to discipline and control youths at home, and avoid placement in a secure facility.

Thirty-six families each year engage in eight weeks of home and group sessions that involve coaching parents through proper discipline, rewards, and punishments, as well as behavior contracts that strictly delineate proper boundaries for youth behavior.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation discussed the positive outcomes of Parenting with Love and Limits in the reentry setting earlier this year; the family focus used to avoid secure confinement in Missouri can similarly set juveniles on the path to law-abiding lives and positive family relationships.


Missouri’s Successful Drug Courts

This month, Judge Molly Merrigan’s drug court in Kansas City, Missouri was named one of the best in the nation by the advocacy group Children and Family Futures. The Kansas City Star explains that “Merrigan’s court was one of the first to take the now-familiar drug court treatment model and adapt it to the wrenching context of child abuse and neglect. Substance abusing parents on the verge of losing their children because of complaints of abuse or neglect must complete a rigorous program of drug and alcohol treatment and frequent testing to assure Merrigan that she can safely reunite the parents with their kids.”

Judge Merrigan’s court is indeed a national model, but are so are several other drug courts in Missouri, the state with the highest number of methamphetamine lab incidents. Drug court participants in Missouri have only a 35% recidivism rate, far better than the control group rate of 50%.

Missouri's Successful Drug Courts


Criminal Justice System Reforms Advance in MO, OK, and WV

Three states considering sentencing and system reform to save their states millions while creating more effective criminal justice policies have advanced legislation to that end, and one group—the Council of State Governments’ Justice Center—is common to each effort.

The Justice Center had previously aided Texas’ criminal justice reform efforts, along with the Center for Effective Justice (which created Right on Crime). The resulting billion-dollar savings, as a result of avoided prison bed construction due to more efficient substance abuse policies, has spurred similar efforts in other states.

In Missouri, legislation is advancing that is the result of the Justice Center’s advice and research. Those bills, which involve swift and sure sanctions as in West Virginia and shock probation, debuted to strong bipartisan support in that state.

In Oklahoma, legislators in the House approved a bill which would provide supervision for ex-inmates, good-time credits for those felons which have served 85 percent of their sentence and who are approved by corrections officials, and emphasizes testing for drug abuse and mental health issues in defendants, legislation introduced after Justice Center research in that state.

In West Virginia, legislators approved increasing drug treatment programming, swift and sure parole and probation sanctions (which have proven to be more effective than standard revocations to incarceration). That bill now moves on for consideration by the full House; as Right on Crime previously noted, this legislation may only be the first step in a series of reform efforts, as the Governor recently invited the Council of State Governments’ Justice Center to advise the state on reform.

Research-based legislative efforts to make criminal justice systems more effective and efficient with taxpayer dollars are quickly becoming the trend across the United States, and West Virginia seeks to benefit from this body of knowledge as well.


Missouri Chief Justice Urges Systematic Changes

In September, Right on Crime noted the work of a Missouri task force studying sentencing reform. The task force recommended, among other things, shortening probation and parole terms and implementing a system of swift and sure sanctions for violations.

The Chief Justice of Missouri’s Supreme Court, Richard Teitelman, last week urged policymakers to consider and pass the changes in his annual State of the Judiciary address. The changes would provide reductions not only in prison populations (which would reduce the need for costly prison construction), but also in up-front state expenditures.

Missouri is fortunate that all three branches of its government are working for comprehensive criminal justice reform. The attention from the chief justice indicates the significance that the issue currently carries in the state.