Featured News 2018 Less is More: State Reforms Reduce Incarceration Rates

Less is More: State Reforms Reduce Incarceration Rates

Think that you'll never know anyone who will be or has been arrested? Think again. Statistically speaking, for every 99 U.S. adults, there is 1 person who is behind bars. Throughout the nation, there are over 2 million people who will spend tonight in prison or in jail. This is not only a social problem; it is unfortunately also a situation that is putting considerable economic and political strain on the country. When one considers the fact that a quarter of the entire world's inmates are incarcerated within our justice system, it begins to shed light on the growing severity of the problem.

This is not an issue that sprouted overnight. Over-incarceration can be traced back to the "War on Drugs" waged by the Nixon administration 40 years ago. The initiative took an aggressive approach to handling the criminally accused by imprisoning those charged with drug-related offenses. It was a 'progressive' approach at the time; however, it has faced more than a fair share of criticism as its effects became clear. It has been blamed for longer sentences, spurring the need for the rapid building of prisons. It has even been accused of creating unfair incarceration rates based on race and other discriminating factors.

The Taxpayer Cost Per Prisoner

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) noted that America's systems have become the largest throughout the world—22 percent of the global prison population is in our prisons. This does not come without a cost. The office of the California Legislative Analyst estimates the public price of imprisonment to be about $47,102 per inmate annually.

The Solution to Our Prison Problem

Is there a solution? The ACLU has been hard at work looking for a possible answer to the economic and social issues our nation is facing. In a report titled "Smart Reform Is Possible: States Reducing Incarceration Rates Costs While Protecting Communities," they examined cost-effective policies that could be backed up by actual evidence. The end goal would be to find something that was not only affordable but would also deal with the root problem—reducing the need for as many prisons as we now have.

Despite popular belief, there is no evidence that ties incarceration into less crime—meaning that our system may not be the way to promote public safety. The ACLU has continued its work with legislators and advocates to look into prison reform. This allowed for incarceration (and the associated costs) to be a last resort, saving money and providing a similar level of public safety.

Some of the best ideas include:
  • Lowering drug-related penalties
  • Eliminating mandatory minimums
  • Lowering the corrections budgets

The Results of Recent Prison Reform

The ACLU report focuses primarily on six states are looking to pass reforms to lessen incarceration in lieu of new policies—Texas, Kansas, Kentucky, Ohio, South Carolina, and Mississippi. It also looks into the ongoing efforts made by Indiana, Maryland, California, and Louisiana to reform the prison system. For example, Texas has experimented with replacing traditional incarceration sentences for low-level drug possession charges with mandatory probation. The state has also invested in drug treatment programs and has looked into establishing non-prison sanctions for those accused of technical parole violations for old crimes.

The end result? More than two billion dollars saved, along with a noticeable drop in the state's crime rate.

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