Friday, May 15, 2009

Reduce incarceration. It's too expensive.

Here is a student's paper on incarceration.

The amount of people incarcerated in this country truly astounds me.  In America we currently have more than 2 million people in jails and prisons.  Countless inmates are serving time for minor drug offenses.  I believe that instead of pursuing the “War on Drugs”, which has led to many of these lockups without a doubt, our country should be putting more time, effort, and focus into alternative incarceration programs.  Diversion programs for first time, non-violent offenders have been proven to work well.   

These types of programs not only cost less than jail and prison, but they also help create a job base for social workers.  I believe that if we implemented more programs like these we could alleviate the growing problem of over populated jails and prisons in the U.S., and save taxpayers money as well.  Alternative incarceration programs allow an offender to receive treatment, employment, and even education and training under the supervision of law enforcement officers.  The offender can either be successful and become a reformed member of our society, or the offender can be unsuccessful, and a judge can simply send him back into the prison system.

Just to give an example of the amount of money that could be saved by creating programs like these, I looked up some statistics.  In New York it costs about $62,595 to house an inmate yearly.  The average cost to put that same inmate through an alternative program would be about $1,400 to $13,000 according to  That’s a minimum savings of $49,595!  In our current economic downturn taxpayers could really use a break like this.  It’s not a dollar amount to be laughed at by most Americans.  I don’t know a person who would say "no" if asked if they wanted to save $50,000. 

Some other benefits of alternative incarceration can be seen within communities.  Because offenders are trying to be a valued part of our society, foster care, shelter, welfare, and child support costs can be managed easier.  Alternative programs also have a significant effect on felon’s illegal drug usage.  It typically falls from 80% to 42% in those participating in the programs.  This is because the social and financial burdens of rehab are now placed back onto the family and community.  [see this 2.6 MB pdf file for more information]

To lend even more support to these programs is the fact that a study conducted by the New York Criminal Justice Agency found that offenders participating in programs like these were less likely to be arrested a second time than offenders who were put in a traditional jail or prison.  This suggests that programs like these are producing results of less crime and fewer repeat offenders.       

Overall, the benefits of alternative incarceration programs can clearly be seen.  Not only do they save money, but they also help reduce crime and repeat offenders as well.  If all states could follow New York’s example, America could regain control over our maxed out capacity jails and prisons, and at the same time fight crime and greatly reduce the enormous cost of housing inmates.  

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