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
Grits for Breakfast: TDCJ SNAFU reduced parole chances for thousands of inmates
Texas needs to use its available parole resources and continue on the model of getting Right on Crime by decreasing the population [and reducing] this fiscal burden. With extreme underfunding, the prison system is a constitutional liability to taxpayers with Federal court intervention a major risk. Read the rest of the article here.:: Read More
“Sentencing laws need examining”
Kevin Kane, president of The Pelican Institute for Public Policy champions Right on Crime for offering “conservative governors and legislatures national support for criminal justice reforms.” Read the full article in the Tri-Parish Times.:: Read More
Washington Post: ‘A more benevolent nation?’
Right on Crime in the Washington Post: E.J. Dionne champions ROC’s advocacy for “community-based programs rather than excessive mandatory minimum sentencing policies and prison expansion.” Click here to view the full article.:: Read More
Right on Crime in USA TODAY
ROC policy analyst Vikrant Reddy: “The pendulum has swung too far from the ‘lock’em-up-and-throw-away-the-keys’ days; it’s time to pull it back.” Click here to read the full article.:: Read More
Closing the Door to Prison, Opening the Door to Reform
While New York isn’t exactly a beacon of liberty, it has been pursuing sensible criminal justice reform over the past few years. Reforms in 2009, for instance, softened mandatory sentences for non-violent drug offenders and promoted drug courts. In a time of state-level penny pinching, the Empire State is moving ahead with the closure of [...]:: Read More
The Pelican Institute on how to reduce Louisiana’s prison population
Louisiana leads the world in the number of people it imprisons, but the Pelican Institute, along with Texas Public Policy Foundation, have developed model legislation to remedy this problem. Click here to learn more.:: Read More
State criminal justice reforms in action
Posted in Adult Probation, Georgia, Law Enforcement, Ohio, Parole and Re-Entry, Priority Issues, Prisons, ROC Blog, South Dakota, State Initiatives, Substance Abuse, Texas, The Criminal Justice Challenge: October 17, 2013 by Right on Crime
This new ROC infographic gives the facts about criminal justice in Texas and proves that our reforms are effective. Check out the infographic below and and click here to read more about state-level reforms. [Click here to enlarge infographic]:: Read More
Vikrant Reddy: “Three myths about conservatives and criminal justice”
Vikrant Reddy details 3 myths about conservatives and criminal justice – and proves why they aren’t true. Read the whole article here.:: Read More
Fox News: “Conservatives join push to roll back mandatory prison sentences”
Following Marc Levin’s testimony before the U.S. Judiciary Committee, this Fox News story features Right on Crime, noting that “The project has since been part of recent, successful efforts in Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and South Carolina to reform their systems through such changes as reducing penalties for low-level drug possessions; expanding the use of time- [...]:: Read More
ABQ Journal: “Time to get tough on prison spending, too”
In this co-authored op-ed, Hal Stratton, Former Attorney General of New Mexico, and Jerry Madden, Former Chairman, Corrections Committee of the Texas House of Representatives, urge New Mexico to get ‘right on crime.’ “As leaders of a national conservative movement called Right on Crime, we believe that by applying conservative principles to criminal justice policy, [...]:: Read More
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