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Right on Crime | February 3, 2011
From 2003 to 2009, 42 prisoners in the United Kingdom were caught trying to break back into prison because they prefer the lifestyle on the inside, according to Merinews. The same source states that, from 2000 to 2009, 102 prisoners per week in the U.K. declined 18-week reductions in their sentences. In South Africa, thousands of ex-offenders, especially those who suffer terminal illness, “are demanding to be allowed to return to their squalid, overcrowded prisons” because of the free health-care provided. The Alabama Sentencing Commission reported in 2004 that up to one-third of U.S. convicts preferred prison over alternatives like boot camp, work-release, or probation. Another study reported that, of 415 surveyed inmates, many would prefer a longer prison sentence rather than a shorter period of alternative sanctions in the community where they would be required to work and attend treatment.
Corrections, however, should be more about what the victim wants, and interestingly a survey of Iowa burglary victims found 81 percent wanted restitution while 41 percent wanted a short jail term and only 7 percent wanted a prison sentence of a year or more. The Texas Public Policy Foundation has noted state data showing that Texas probationers pay 98 times more restitution than prisoners.
Of course, what the public wants is to be safe, and Texas is proof that reducing incarceration rates and reducing crime rates can go hand in hand. From 2004 to 2008, Texas was able to reduce incarceration rates by 9.2% while reducing serious crimes by 10.8%. TPPF’s Marc Levin has stated that conservative and bipartisan ideals in criminal justice can be achieved by embracing alternative rehabilitative methods. It appears that for many offenders, alternatives like drug courts and doing hard work at a day reporting center to pay restitution and child support that would go unpaid in prison are clearly tougher than prison. Thus, requiring offenders to confront their obligations and addictions is hardly soft on crime, but rather tough and smart.