Belknap County, New Hampshire recently hired an analyst to put together a plan for its county jail system, including the construction of a new jail.
But when the analyst concluded his research and addressed county officials, judges, legislators, and law enforcement officers to discuss the plan, he instead instructed them on a better way to handle corrections.
In the last decade, the number of inmates grew by 114 percent, daily population rates increased by 148 percent, and average lengths of stay rose by 144 percent.
The result was an overflowing county jail and a strapped county budget.
The analyst pointed to community-based treatments, intensive community transition in a halfway house, swift and sure sanctions, risk analyses, and diversions such as drug and mental health courts as ways to create a more efficient and effective criminal justice system in the county.
These alternatives to jail construction need to be considered everywhere – not just Belknap County. The high cost of building increasingly larger jails drains county budgets and taxpayers’ wallets, and it often does little to reform low-level offenders.
It may not have been what the county hired the analyst for, but it may be exactly what it needed to hear.