Priority Issues: Prisons
I. The Issue
Prisons serve a critical role in society. In many cases – particularly cases of violent crime – the best way to handle criminal behavior is to incapacitate criminals by incarcerating them. Prisons are supremely important, but they are also a supremely expensive government program, and thus prison systems must be held to the highest standards of accountability.
II. The Impact
One out of every one hundred adults in America is incarcerated, a total population of approximately 2.3 million. By contrast, according to a report published in The Economist, the number of imprisoned adults in America in 1970 was only one out of every 400. The United States has 5% of the world's population, but 23% of the world's reported prisoners. It is not clear, however, that these high rates of imprisonment are leading to safer communities. One study by two professors at Purdue University and Rutgers University has estimated that were we to increase incarceration by another ten percent, the subsequent reduction in crime would be only 0.5%. The state of Florida provides a useful example. Over the past thirteen years, the proportion of prisoners who were incarcerated for committing non-violent crimes rose by 189%. By contrast, the proportion of inmates who committed violent crimes dropped by 28%.
For this benefit, Americans are paying dearly – between $18,000 and $50,000 per prisoner per year depending upon the state. The nation is also reaching a point where it simply does not have the capacity for so much incarceration. In 2009, the number of federal inmates rose by 3.4%, and federal prisons are now 60% over capacity.
These figures are not markers of success. Americans do not measure the success of welfare programs by maximizing the number of people who collect welfare checks. Instead success is evaluated by counting how many people are able to get off welfare. Why not apply the same evaluation to prisons?
III. The Conservative Solution
• Understand that to be considered “successful,” a prison must reduce recidivism among inmates.
• Increase the use of custodial supervision alternatives such as probation and parole for nonviolent offenders. In many cases, these programs can also be linked to mandatory drug addiction treatment and mental health counseling that would prevent recidivism. States' daily prison costs average nearly $79.00 per day, compared to less than $3.50 per day for probation.
• Consider geriatric release programs when appropriate. Approximately 200,000 American prisoners are over the age of fifty. The cost of incarcerating them is particularly high because of their increased health care needs in old age, and their presence has turned some prisons into de facto nursing homes for felons – all funded by taxpayer.
• Consider eliminating many mandatory minimum sentencing laws for nonviolent offenses. These laws remove all discretion from judges who are the most intimately familiar with the facts of a case and who are well-positioned to know which defendants need to be in prison because they threaten public safety and which defendants would in fact not benefit from prison time.
• For those instances when prisons are necessary, explore private prison options. A study by The Reason Foundation indicated that private prisons offer cost savings of 10 to 15 percent compared to state-operated facilities. By including an incentive in private corrections contracts for lowering recidivism and the flexibility to innovate, private facilities could potentially not just save money but also compete to develop the most cost-effective recidivism reduction programming.
Agenda 2005: A Guide to the Issues by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation
Aligning Incentives and Goals in the Texas Criminal Justice System by the Texas Public Policy Foundation
Alternatives to More Prisons Promote Public Safety, Restorative Outcomes, and Fiscal Responsibility by the Texas Public Policy Foundation
The Case for Further Sentencing Reform in Colorado by the Independence Institute
Controlling Costs and Protecting Public Safety in the Cornhusker State by the Platte Institute
Corrections 2.0: A Proposal to Create a Continuum of Care in Corrections through Public-Private Partnerships by The Reason Foundation and Florida TaxWatch
Criminal Justice Policy in Delaware: Options for Controlling Costs and Protecting Public Safety by the Caesar Rodney Institute
Criminal Justice Policy in New Mexico: Keys to Controlling Costs and Protecting Public Safety by the Rio Grande Foundation
How to Avert another Texas Prison Crowding Crisis by the Texas Public Policy Foundation
Mental Illness and the Texas Criminal Justice System by the Texas Public Policy Foundation
Peach State Criminal Justice: Controlling Costs, Protecting the Public by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation
Prescription for Safer Communities by Chuck Colson and Pat Nolan
The Role of Risk Assessment in Enhancing Public Safety and Efficiency in Texas Corrections by the Texas Public Policy Foundation
Texas Criminal Justice Reform: Lower Crime, Lower Cost by the Texas Public Policy Foundation
Unlocking Competition in Corrections by the Texas Public Policy Foundation
CQ article notes growing movement toward conservative criminal justice reform
This Congressional Quarterly article is worth reading in full. Note the mention of Right on Crime and the various conservative lawmakers who are supporting our efforts. An End to the Jailhouse Blues? By John Gramlich, CQ Staff Congressional Democrats have argued for years that too many low-level drug offenders are locked away in federal prisons [...]:: Read More
Grover Norquist on Michael Medved radio show
Here is a partial transcript from a recent Michael Medved radio show, where he interviewed signatory Grover Norquist about our work on criminal justice reform. They discussed the conservative way forward for prison reform, and ensuring that taxpayers get the best deal from the system, all while reducing crime and recidivism. Medved: So are we [...]:: Read More
TPPF and Marc Levin in Texas Monthly
Check out this great article about Right on Crime principles and policies in Texas. It features Marc Levin and the Texas Public Policy Foundation for their work fighting crime and saving money at the same time. With orders from the LBB and political cover from TAB, the infantry in the trenches is a coalition force [...]:: Read More
Signatory Grover Norquist on MSNBC’s The Daily Rundown
Check out the video of Right on Crime signatory Grover Norquist on MSNBC’s The Daily Rundown with Chuck Todd. Mr. Norquist does a great job explaining why conservatives are supporting criminal justice reform, and gives a nice shout out to TPPF and Right on Crime!:: Read More
Vikrant Reddy interviewed by Matt Lewis of The Daily Caller
Vikrant Reddy joined The Daily Caller’s Matt Lewis today to talk about conservative ideas for criminal justice reform. They spoke about Senator Rand Paul’s speech to Howard University yesterday, as well as our broader Right on Crime issue set. LISTEN NOW! Also, here is a blog post up at the DC where Lewis describes the interview [...]:: Read More
Vikrant Reddy interviews with Christian Broadcasting Network
This morning, Right on Crime policy analyst Vikrant Reddy interviewed with Paul Strand of the Christian Broadcasting Network. Vikrant spoke about the Texas model of criminal justice reform, and about how other states are following suit. He specifically discussed issues like overcriminalization, alternatives to incarceration and reducing criminal justice costs. Here is a picture of [...]:: Read More
Asa Hutchinson talks about Right on Crime
Watch this interesting TV interview of Asa Hutchinson, a leading Right on Crime signatory. He discusses why conservatives are supporting innovative and effective criminal justice policies that reduce crime, costs and recidivism. The interview aired on Canadian television.:: Read More
Senator Rand Paul talks criminal justice at Howard University
Read the full text of Senator Rand Paul’s speech at Howard University today. He focused on how conservative values, including those that deal with criminal justice reform, can better people’s lives and limit government power. Here is an excerpt from the speech today. Our federal mandatory minimum sentences are simply heavy handed and arbitrary. They [...]:: Read More
Senator Rand Paul leading the way on Criminal Justice Reform
We were pleased to read this article in The Washington Times by Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. The good senator is supporting Right on Crime principles of fighting crime, prioritizing victims and saving taxpayer dollars. He is trying to move legislation that would reform the federal mandatory minimum laws currently on the books. Senator Paul knows [...]:: Read More
New Cascade Policy Institute paper on criminal justice reform in Oregon
Check out the brand new paper released by the Cascade Policy Institute in Oregon. It’s entitled, “Protecting Public Safety and Reducing Correctional Costs in Oregon.” Here is an excerpt: It is also the case that effective law enforcement strategies deter crime, and sensible approaches to community corrections may reduce recidivism. For these and other reasons, [...]:: Read More
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