Sustained Outrage

Prison vs. public safety

Fresh on the heels of yesterday’s post about billions of dollars in potential savings through parole, the Justice Policy Institute published this study which concludes that America’s prison population (which has exploded in recent decades) can be safely reduced without posing a threat to the public.

States that spend more money on education and housing see positive results in reducing crime rates, according to the study, whereas locking more people up doesn’t necessarily correspond with a reduction in crime:

Shifting public dollars away from prisons and towards positive investments in people doesn’t involve a public safety “trade-off.” Research shows that states that spend more on education have lower crime rates than states that spend less. And more funding for housing also correlates with lower incarceration rates. Having a job has also been shown to be one of the largest predictors both staying out of prison and of success for people re-entering the community from prison. With the money saved on prisons, states can maintain or expand education, housing, employment training, and cost-effective services for both youth and adults. In this way, policymakers can maintain safe communities today, while building stronger communities for the future.

Here are some suggestions from the JPI on how to approach the task of paroling more inmates without increasing the threat the public (and keep in mind, these are just the broad topics; the study goes into more depth):

— Utilize risk assessments

— Reduce administrative delays in parole

— Increase access to in-prison programming

— Establish medical parole

— Consider parole for aging people in prison

— Institute better “good time” policies

— Implement or expand work release or community corrections

And here’s perhaps the most obvious (but most important) idea in the whole study: “People need support after release to be successful in the community.”

Substance-involved people have come to compose a large portion of the prison population. Substance use may play a role in the commission of certain crimes: approximately 16 percent of people in state prison and 18 percent of people in federal prison reported committing their crimes to obtain money for drugs. Treatment delivered in the community is one of the most cost-effective ways to prevent such crimes and costs approximately $20,000 less than incarceration per person per year. A study by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy found that every dollar spent on drug treatment in the community yields over $18 in cost savings related to crime. In comparison, prisons only yield $.37 in public safety benefit per dollar spent. Releasing people to supervision and making treatment accessible is an effective way of reducing problematic drug use, reducing crime associated with drug use and reducing the number of people in prison.