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
Mississippi HB 585: Recommendations of the Corrections and Criminal Justice Task Force
Why does Mississippi need HB585? Mississippi’s prison population has grown by 17 percent in the last decade, topping 22,600 inmates last year. The state now has the second-highest imprisonment rate in the country, trailing only Louisiana. Without action, these trends will continue and Mississippi prisons will need to house 1,990 more inmates by 2024 – [...]:: Read More
ROC signatory Pat Nolan on prison reform
From Rare: “Only a nation that’s rich and stupid would continue to pour billions into a system that leaves prisoners unreformed, victims ignored and communities still living in fear of crime.” Click here to read more.:: Read More
ROC signatories applauded for being leaders of criminal justice reform movement
It’s no secret that conservatives are paving the way for our country to implement effective criminal justice policies, and this article from The Fix commends ROC signatories such as Newt Gingrich, Grover Norquist and Craig DeRoche for helping the nation to get right on crime.:: Read More
ROC signatory Jerry Madden led the way in developing TX justice reinvestment strategy
Right on Crime signatory Jerry Madden is credited by the Houston Chronicle as being a pioneer for early Texas criminal justice reforms.:: Read More
Conservative prison reform makes sense
In this Houston Chronicle article, ROC policy analyst Derek Cohen explains why it makes sense for conservatives to support smart criminal justice reform.:: Read More
CNN: “On prison reform, Democrats and Republicans bond”
In Texas, a conservative group called Right on Crime has led the way on prison and sentencing reform — earning plaudits from, among others, California progressives. Why this rash of consensus? Click here to read more.:: Read More
Marc Levin on “To the Point” with Warren Olney
“What we’ve found is that sending people to prison who have a drug addiction, for example, they often only stay for a year or two… and of course when they get out, any positive ties they had to church or their family, those have been severed and…they come out worse than when they came in.” [Audio [...]:: Read More
“New Climate For Drug Sentencing, Guidelines Expected To Change”
ROC senior policy analyst Vikrant Reddy: “The federal U.S. prison population has grown by 700 percent since 1980, and now exceeds 215,000. Many activists, policymakers, judges, victims’ groups, and informed citizens not only welcome the ‘All Drugs Minus Two’ amendment, they feel it is long overdue.” Click here to read more.:: Read More
Marc Levin, Right on Crime, featured in Texas Monthly
Right on Crime featured in Texas Monthly:: Read More
Right on Crime in BuzzFeed
ROC policy analyst Vikrant Reddy is featured in this BuzzFeed article as he discusses the bipartisan movement to reform the nation’s criminal justice system.:: Read More
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