The Rising Cost of Incarceration
Dr. Monica E. Jayroe
April 17, 2013
The rising cost of overcrowded corrections and potential solutions are discussed. Alternatives to incarcerations such as probation, house arrest and fines are just a few of the topics explored. Understanding the problems with the system will help to alleviate the cost along with the correct level of justice associated with crime.
A State has a limited amount of funds to accomplish the work that needs to be done. The work includes public safety needs like police and fire, road building and maintenance, setting laws, and corrections to name only a few. Some of these services could be from State money or could be from local jurisdiction funds. This money that funds the many projects throughout a State and local government is generated from taxes that each citizen pays. If the tax payer feels the government should provide more services then the citizen would probably be in favor of raising taxes to accommodate the additional services. It could be argued that most tax payers would disagree and demand lower taxes which would in turn create fewer services. The decision would need to be made on which services should be eliminated or cut so the average citizen can pay less tax. Most people would probably agree that police and fire need not be cut, but services to prisons and corrections would not stand on the safe ground. The cry for retribution and punishment would be heard and less about programs to help reintegrate the offender. This is the mindset the corrections system must fight against and educate the public on the need for more services and resources to make the system work. By educating the public and the legislature that corrections does not want to let out all the criminals and not hold them accountable, but that every offender in the system does not need to serve a life sentence. The goal is for the time to fit the crime. This goal does not advocate every offender should be incarcerated but that each offender should be looked at individually and decided what program will work the best, be it incarceration, probation, work release, or a host of other alternative sentences that will be discussed.
The corrections system in many states is already over the recommended capacity of the facilities. An article written in 1997 shows that Ohio was at 133 percent of capacity, while other states have also seen this gap widen (Reese, 1997). Questions need to be answered regarding the safety of having overcrowded prisons. Are the corrections officers safe? Are the prisoners safe? Is the public safe? The corrections staff has a hard job keeping societies law breakers in order. When the design of a prison is rated for 400 prisoners but 800 prisoners are assigned making the prison at 200 percent capacity, safety of all persons is in jeopardy. The closeness of the offenders to each other breeds aggressive behavior to each other and the corrections staff. The closeness also causes airborne disease to spread rapidly causing a spike in health care needs and costs. The public may be safe initially while the offenders are incarcerated, but being in a hostile aggressive environment will not be conducive to rehabilitation and may breed continued criminal tendencies upon release. Overcrowding causes any services in the system to be overloaded and not productive to administer. This coincides with the offender’s lack of preparation for living outside of the prison and can lead to repeat violations once released. If more people are sentenced to alternatives to incarceration will that cause other sections of the corrections system to be overcrowded? The answer is yes, it would cause funds to then be allocated to the alternatives. The good news is the alternatives are generally more cost effective than incarceration. By spending the corrections money in a more efficient manner...
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Stemen, D. (2007, April). Reconsidering Incarceration: New Directions for Reducing Crime.
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The Alabama Sentencing Commission. (2005). A Rational Sentencing Plan-Ready for Approval.
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