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
Washington Post: “States are justly reviewing their use of solitary confinement”
In Texas, inmates sent to solitary spend an average of four years there, reported Marc Levin of the conservative criminal justice reform group Right on Crime. Texas, though, is at least reviewing its practices. That might be because isolating prisoners is expensive — costing something like twice as much as keeping them in the general prison [...]:: Read More
“The answer isn’t always prison”
“Jerry Madden of Right on Crime, a project of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, says people are sent to prison because society is afraid of or mad at them. The end result is prison overcrowding, as states do not want to take on the cost of building new facilities.” Click here to read more from [...]:: Read More
SFGate: “Texas an unlikely model for prison reform”
Democratic California Senator Loni Hancock praises Texas for its conservative criminal justice reforms. “Texas is investing in alternatives to incarceration that are proving to be cheaper and more effective at keeping people out of prison. It is also doing a better job of rehabilitating people to keep them from reoffending and ending up back in prison. [...]:: Read More
A Second Act for Criminal Justice: Panel at TPPF’s PO2014
Adam Gelb, Director of Public Safety Performance Project at Pew Charitable Trusts, The Honorable Bill Hammond, President and CEO of Texas Association of Business, and Representatives Abel Hererro and Tan Parker of the Texas House of Representatives discuss adult corrections in the Lone Star State.:: Read More
Nebraska’s “fresh look on reform”
In this segment of Nebraska’s KNOP-TV, ROC policy director Marc Levin proposes three solutions for improving the state’s criminal justice system.:: Read More
IdahoReporter: Idaho spends nearly $40 million annually to lock up drug offenders
This article by IdahoReporter.com features Marc Levin’s suggestions for Idaho sentencing reform. “All the research shows it is the swiftness and sureness of the sanction more than the length of time that determines the effectiveness, but some probation supervision is still stuck in the old model of letting technical violations pile up without intervening and [...]:: Read More
Alaska’s Corrections System
This new ROC infographic illustrates the high cost and low return of Alaska’s corrections system.:: Read More
Chuck DeVore on the Phil Cowan Show
Chuck DeVore shares how Texas reduced its incarceration rate while simultaneously reducing spending — and what California can learn from the Lone Star State. [Audio clip: view full post to listen]:: Read More
Chuck DeVore on “The Jesse Lee Peterson Radio Show”
Reverend Peterson hosts TPPF’s VP of Policy Chuck DeVore on his nationally syndicated radio “The Jesse Lee Peterson Show” to talk about prison reform. [Audio clip: view full post to listen]:: Read More
Human Events: No crime for California to learn from Texas
This article by Human Events relays the importance of the bipartisan prison reform policies advocated by Right On Crime and Chuck DeVore during his testimony before California’s Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review. “In spite of Texas’ well-deserved reputation as this tough-on-crime state, and some of us would like to think perhaps because of it, [...]:: Read More
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