The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) released a report yesterday stating that in 2007 one in every 31 adults in the United States was incarcerated or under criminal justice supervision. According to BJS:
More than 7.3 million men and women were under correctional supervision in the nation’s prisons or jails or on probation or parole at year-end 2007.
Despite the fact that several states across the country have proven that there are more effective ways of treating the problem of crime than simply warehousing people in overcrowded prisons – solutions which have fewer costs (on people and to the state) associated with them – our nation continues to lead the way in frantically locking people up without much thought about its long term impact on our safety or our wallets.
According to the Pew Center on the States, a non-partisan organization, there are numerous ways to reduce the prison population and the associated costs of imprisoning people, including: parole/probation reforms, diversion programs, increasing good-time programs for people behind bars, and sentencing reforms for non-violent offenders, such as drug and mental health courts that do not require a guilty plea. (See the report here.)
Many of these approaches provide alternative solutions that increase public safety while targeting specific populations that do not need to be thrown behind prison walls. The use of our prisons and jails to confine people who pose no threat to the public results in severe overcrowding. Too often, as a result, prisoners are exposed to inhumane and disgusting conditions inconsistent with basic human dignity.
Particularly in light of the budget crisis that is afflicting the federal and state governments, policymakers need to make corrections reform a top priority because current policies are misguided and their cost to taxpayers, not to mention the cost in human lives, in this country is far too high.