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Prisons

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.

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?

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.

There’s No Confusion Here

Right on Crime | December 4, 2018
This blog post, co-written by Joe Luppino-Esposito of the Due Process Institute and John Koufos of Right on Crime, originally appeared at the Due Process Institute blog on Dec.…

Prison Reform: Major Achievement for President Trump

Right on Crime | November 19, 2018
This commentary, written by our signatory Ken Blackwell, originally appeared at Townhall on Nov. 18, 2018. The FIRST STEP Act is the beginning of a transformation of America’s federal…

Partners in Hope: A Journey of Second Chances

Right on Crime | November 15, 2018
This post originally appeared as a press release at the Badger Institute, our SPN partner in Wisconsin, on November 14, 2018. Imagine a prisoner reentry program where the mentors…

Right on Crime Applauds President Trump for Supporting Meaningful Prison Reform

Right on Crime | November 14, 2018
Washington, DC — Today, President Donald J. Trump expressed his support for the seminal prison reform legislation, the First Step Act. If passed, it would increase public safety, provide…

Now Is the Time to Pass “First Step Act”

Right on Crime | November 12, 2018
This commentary, written by our signatory J.C. Watts, originally appeared at The Oklahoman on November 11, 2018. You would expect that in the face of midterm elections, the Brett Kavanaugh…

When Mental Health Problems Become Criminal

Thomas Lyons | November 7, 2018
Recently, the leaders of the criminal justice system in La Crosse County got together to discuss the impact of untreated mental health on the local court system.  Startled by…

Justice demands passage of First Step bill to rehabilitate lives

Right on Crime | October 22, 2018
This article by Right on Crime signatory Rebecca Hagelin originally appeared in Washington Times October 21, 2018. For only a few hours each month, she gets to be a…

Why faith should lead us on criminal justice reform

Greg Glod | July 20, 2018
This article by Greg Glod originally appeared at The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission July 20, 2018. My grandmother on my mother’s side was born on Zakynthos, a small…

Louisiana’s new incarceration ranking should not be taken lightly or for granted

Elain Ellerbe | June 28, 2018
According to a new report by the Prison Policy Initiative, Oklahoma has now surpassed Louisiana as the largest incarcerator in the United States by rate. Louisiana’s fall in the…

Conservatives urge U.S. Senate to take up prison reform legislation

Right on Crime | June 27, 2018
Dear Majority Leader McConnell and Chairman Grassley: As conservatives, we firmly believe in limited, effective government.  It is paramount to ensure that the scope of government does not grow…

A rare chance for Congress to bring real reform and make our communities safer

Right on Crime | June 20, 2018
This article by Ken Cuccinelli, former Virginia Attorney General and signatory to Right on Crime’s statement of principles, originally appeared in Fox News June 20th, 2018. The desire for…
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