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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.

A Dismal Christmas for Department of Corrections

Andrew Speno | December 15, 2017
Egregious overcrowding and decrepit facilities are converging upon Oklahoma’s Department of Corrections like a perfect storm. The tough-on-crime policies of yesteryear, particularly mandatory minimum sentencing, have come back to haunt…

Oklahoma’s Budget Crisis

Andrew Speno | December 4, 2017
Oklahoma continues sliding deeper into its budget crisis as the Department of Corrections Director is now requesting an additional one billion dollars to accommodate the state’s growing inmate population.…

Guide for Lawmakers on Criminal Justice Reform

Rohan Vaidya | November 27, 2017
A newly released project commissioned by Arizona State University, in conjunction with the Charles Koch Foundation, provides a comprehensive guide for tackling the various issues surrounding criminal justice reform…

Louisiana Is Leading on Long-Overdue Criminal Justice Reform

Right on Crime | November 20, 2017
This article by Right on Crime Signatory and CEO of the Pelican Institute, Daniel Erspamer, originally appeared in The Daily Signal, November 17th, 2017. Louisiana has joined the growing…

Criminal Sentencing Reform in Georgia has become National Model

Right on Crime | November 20, 2017
This article by Right on Crime Signatories, Newt Gingrich and Kelly McCutchen, originally appeared in The Augusta Chronicle, November 18th, 2017. Texas is celebrating 10 successful years of reform…

Prison Reforms Will Save Money, Make Us Safer

Elain Ellerbe | November 10, 2017
This article by Elain Ellerbe originally appeared in Shreveport Times, November 10th, 2017. Criminal Justice Reform in Louisiana has begun and it’s a marathon, not a 100-yard dash. This past…

In Defense Of Louisiana’s Criminal Justice Reforms

Right on Crime | November 3, 2017
This article by Right on Crime Signatory and CEO of the Pelican Institute, Daniel Erspamer, originally appeared in The Hay Ride, November 2nd, 2017 This week’s news will be…

Right on Crime in Oklahoma

Andrew Speno | October 25, 2017
Oklahoma lawmakers gathered for a hearing on the interim study on criminal justice reform at the state capitol, Tuesday, October 24th. The Chairman of the study, Rep. Terry O’Donnell…

Texas-Inspired Bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform Bill Introduced in Senate

Right on Crime | October 24, 2017
Congress continues its momentum with proven state-based solutions Right on Crime is encouraged by the filing of the Corrections Oversight, Recidivism Reduction, and Eliminating Costs for Taxpayers In Our…

Crime, Punishment and Taxes

Marc Levin | October 24, 2017
This article by Marc Levin and MacArthur Foundation’s Director for Justice, Laurie Garduque, originally appeared in USA Today, October 24th, 2017. Local corrections costs have quadrupled over the past 40 years.…

Prison Reform will Make Louisiana Safer

Right on Crime | October 19, 2017
This article by Daniel Erspamer, Right on Crime Signatory and CEO of the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, originally appeared in Shreveport Times, October 17th, 2017. Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve…

Families Need Criminal Justice Reform

Katie Greer | October 17, 2017
Conservatives often argue that a key component of raising happy, productive children is parental stability. Children from broken homes are much more likely to get involved with drugs and…
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