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Does Prison Work?

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Does Prison Work?

Since 1980 the U.S. prison population has more than quadrupled (4.6x) by growing to a staggering 2.3 million people. With some states paying as much to keep a person in prison as it would cost to pay tuition, room, board and fees at Harvard, we must ask the question, does prison work?

Did you know?

  • The US imprisons it’s people at the highest rate in the world: 716 per 100,000 people.
    • Among OECD countries, Israel comes in 2nd at 223 per 100,000 people.
  • While the U.S. has 5% of the world’s population, it holds 25% of the world’s prisoners.
  • 1 out of every 105 American adults is in prison.
  • 1 out of every 35 American adults is in prison, on parole, or probation supervision.
  • Over $80 billion dollars are spent on corrections yearly
  • The most serious charge for 20% of state prisoners and 51% of federal prisoners is a drug offense.
    • 6 in 10 drug offenders have no history of violence or high-level drug selling activity.
    • Only 14% of drug offenders get treatment.

What is Prison For?

In America, prison has historically had four major purposes:

  • Retribution: punishment for committing a crime.
  • Incapacitation: removing criminals from the streets.
  • Deterrence: preventing future crime from being committed.
  • Rehabilitation: helping inmates heal and become productive citizens upon reentry to society.

Rehabilitation era

Before the mid-1800’s, prisons focused on retribution, incapacitation, and deterrence. They mainly served to remove criminals from society.

Sometime after the mid-1800’s, the philosophy of incarceration shifted to rehabilitation.

The 1870 and 1970 Prison Congresses both endorsed incarceration principles such as:

“corrections must demonstrate integrity, respect, dignity, fairness”

“sanctions imposed by the court shall be commensurate with the seriousness of the offense”

“offenders . . . shall be afforded the opportunity to engage in productive work, participate in programs . . . and other activities that will enhance self-worth, community integration, and economic community integration, and economic status.”

This rehabilitation era lasted until the early 1980’s.

What stopped the rehabilitation era?

In 1974 a criminologist named Robert Martinson published a report that claimed:

“with few and isolated exceptions, the rehabilitative efforts that have been reported so far have had no appreciable effect on recidivism.”

  • Martinson later retracted his conclusions and his original essay was full of methodological flaws, but prominent political figures still embraced his message and policies began to diminish rehabilitation.

In a 1989 case called Misretta v.U.S., the U.S. Supreme Court upheld federal sentencing guidelines that no longer made rehabilitation a serious goal for inmates.

After that point, prisons returned to emphasizing retribution, incapacitation, and deterrence. Prominent political figures began political campaigns centered on phrases like:

  • “Tough on Crime”
  • “Three Strikes You are Out”
  • “War on Drugs”

Does Prison Work to Decrease Crime?

Crime Rate in U.S. has gone down since 1980.

Year

Violent Crime

Total

Violent

Crime

Property Crime

Total

Property

Crime

Murder and

Non-Negligent

Manslaughter

Forcible

Rape

Robbery

Aggravated

Assault

Burglary

Larceny

Theft

Motor

Vehicle

Theft

1980

10

37

251

299

597

1684

3167

502

5353

1985

8

37

209

303

557

1287

2901

462

4651

1990

9

41

257

424

732

1236

3195

658

5089

1995

8

37

221

418

685

987

3044

560

4591

2000

6

32

145

324

506

728

2475

414

3618

2005

6

32

151

302

491

750

2343

443

3535

2010

5

28

119

253

405

701

2006

239

2946

2012

5

27

113

242

387

679

1959

230

2859

Numbers are rate per 100,000

Prison Population in U.S. has gone up since 1980.

Year

Probation

Parole

Jail

Prison

Prison

& Jail

Total

1980

1,118,097

220,438

182,288

319,598

501,886

1,840,421

1985

1,968,712

300,203

254,986

487,593

742,579

3,011,494

1990

2,670,234

531,407

403,019

743,382

1,146,401

4,348,042

1995

3,077,861

679,421

499,300

1,078,542

1,577,842

5,335,124

2000

3,826,209

723,898

613,534

1,316,333

1,929,867

6,479,974

2005

4,166,757

780,616

740,770

1,448,344

2,189,114

7,136,487

2010

4,055,514

840,676

748,728

1,521,414

2,270,142

7,166,332

2012

3,940,000

851,200

744,500

1,567,800

2,312,300

7,103,500

Since the incarceration rate has more than quadrupled and crime has dramatically decreased, it would appear that prisons emphasizing retribution, incapacitation, and deterrence do, in fact, work.

Not so fast…

  • Only 25% of the decreased crime rate is due to an increase in incarceration.
  • In the past 10 years, all of the 19 states that decreased imprisonment rates also decreased in crime rate (Alaska, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.)
  • In 2000 Florida and New York both had about 70,000 inmates. Since then Florida has added 30,000 inmates and New York has decreased by 10,000 inmates. Yet, both states have seen a decrease of crime by 28-29%.

The Cost of Incarceration

Expanding prisons is less effective than presumed and the cost of imprisoning inmates is growing out of control.

  • In 1982 the US spent $22 billion on corrections (adjusted to 2010 dollars).
    • That’s $97 dollars every man, woman, and child paid every year for prisons.
  • In 2010 the US spent $80 Billion.
    • That’s $259 dollars every man, woman, and child pays every year for prisons.

Year

Total

Local, State and Federal

Corrections Cost in US

(2010 dollars billions)

CostPer Capita

1982

$22

$97

1987

$36

$148

1992

$55

$213

1997

$67

$246

2002

$80

$277

2007

$78

$259

2010

$80

$259

  • The US spends an estimated average of $31,286 per inmate per year.
    • Kentucky pays the least at $14,603 per inmate per year.
    • New York pays the highest at $60,076 per inmate per year.

State

Crime Rate

(per 100,000)

Incaceration Rate

(per 100,000)

Cost per inmate

per year

Alabama

4026

648

$17,285

Alaska

3240

340

$44,955

Arizona

3961

572

$24,805

Arkansas

4235

552

$24,391

California

2995

439

$47,421

Colorado

2926

445

$30,374

Connecticut

2440

376

$50,262

Delaware

3971

443

$32,967

Florida

4037

556

$20,553

Georgia

4000

479

$21,039

Hawaii

3625

302

$33,660

Idaho

2268

474

$19,545

Illinois

3118

373

$38,268

Indiana

3494

434

$14,823

Iowa

2586

309

$32,924

Kansas

3434

317

$18,207

Kentucky

2947

458

$14,603

Louisiana

3006

867

$17,486

Maine

2669

148

$46,404

Maryland

3154

387

$38,384

Massachusetts

2687

200

$45,017

Michigan

3057

445

$28,117

Minnesota

2770

185

$41,364

Mississippi

3296

686

15,235

Missouri

3756

508

$22,350

Montana

2586

378

$30,226

Nebraska

3006

247

$35,950

Nevada

3123

472

$20,656

New Hampshire

2472

209

$34,080

New Jersey

2459

286

$54,865

New Mexico

4100

323

39,000

New York

2310

288

$60,076

North Carolina

3877

373

$29,965

North Dakota

2184

226

$39,260

Ohio

3662

448

$25,814

Oklahoma

3817

654

$18,467

Oregon

3363

361

30,105

Pennsylvania

2577

403

$42,339

Rhode Island

2925

197

$49,133

South Carolina

4476

495

15,961

South Dakota

2072

416

$28,693

Tennessee

4204

432

23,145

Texas

3881

648

$21,390

Utah

3168

238

$29,349

Vermont

2444

265

$49,502

Virginia

2447

468

$25,129

Washington

3870

269

$46,897

West Virginia

2590

363

$26,498

Wisconsin

2670

366

$37,994

Wyoming

2485

385

43,500

What’s the Alternative

We can no longer say that prison is better than nothing. We must ask if prison is better than the alternatives. 8 out of 10 Americans believe alternatives to prison are a better approach for non-violent offenders.

Halfway House

Halfway Houses are used mostly as an intermediate step to help people return from prison to the community but they can also be used instead of prison or jail when a person’s sentence is very short. It costs about $74 per day for a person to be in a halfway house.

House Arrest

House Arrest requires offenders to stay home, often with electronic monitoring like an ankle bracelet. It costs about &10.00 per day for a person to be on house arrest.

Probation

Probation is an effective alternative for low-level crime. It keeps the offender in the community while still limiting freedom. It costs about $9 per day for a person to be on probation.

2012

Per Inmate

Daily Cost

Per Inmate

Monthly Cost

Per Inmate

Annual Cost

Federal Prison

$79.16

$2,412

$28,948

Halfway Houses

$73.78

$2,244

$26,930

House Arrest

$10.00

$304

$3,650

Probation

$9.17

$279

$3,347

A variety of research demonstrates that investments in drug treatment, inmate education and interventions with at-risk families are more effective than expanding incarceration.

Drug Treatment

For every $1 spent on drug treatment:

  • the community saves $7 in reduced crime and increased earnings.
  • the prison system would have to spend $8 to reduce drug use the same amount.
  • the prison system would have to spend $15 to reduce drug related crime the same amount.

Inmate Education

RSVP: Taking serious the charge to “keep the peace”, the San Francisco Sheriffs Department founded the Resolve to Stop the Violence Project (RSVP); an intensive re-education program for inmates. When compared to a similar group of inmates without the program:

  • Rearrest for violent crime went down 46% with just 2 months in the program.
  • Rearrest for violent crime went down 53% with just 3 months in the program.
  • Rearrest for violent crime went down 83% with just 4 months in the program.
  • Those that did get rearrested spent 66% less time in prison.
  • As a result, RSVP saved tax payers $4 for every $1 it cost.

Stay’n Out: New York’s ‘Stay’n Out’ drug treatment program (1977-2008) separated participants from the general inmate population and gave them group counseling and special workshops.

  • Graduates were 68% less likely to get rearrested than those outside the program.

Interventions

Child-Parent Centers: Founded in Chicago in 1967, Child-Parent Centers provide publicly-funded early educational and family support to disadvantaged children and their parents. For 14 years, researchers tracked 989 of those children and 550 similar children not in the program.

  • The children who did not participate were 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime by age 18.

Nurse-Family Partnership: From pregnancy until their child’s 2nd birthday, low-income moms are provided with the care and support they need to give their child a healthy start.

  • Arrests by age 15 fell 59% for the children of moms that participated in the program.

The Perry Preschool Study: HighScope Educational Research Foundation conducted a 40 year study called The Perry Preschool Study. It gave high quality preschool education to children born in poverty and at high risk of failing in school.

  • At age 40 only 28% had served time compared to 52% of those outside the program.
  • Only 14% had been arrested for drug crimes compared to 34% of those outside the program.
  • For every $1 spent on the children the community saved $16 in reduced crime and increased earnings.

So, does prison work?

While prison does work 25% of the time, the most effective and cost efficient way to decrease crime is by investing in prevention and rehabilitation.


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Sources

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