Pew study finds
|March 5, 2009||Posted by Jeffery J. Smith under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
Pew study finds
Cost of locking up Americans too high
While controlling people need not cost so much, need we lock up so many people? What should be and not be a crime? Would economic justice — which via geonomics is within our reach — make a difference? This 2009 article is from Reuters of Mar 2.
by Lisa Lambert
One in every 31 US adults is in the corrections system, which includes jail, prison, probation, and supervision, more than double the rate of a quarter century ago, according to a report released on Monday by the Pew Center on the States.
The study, which said the current rate compares to one in 77 in 1982, concluded that with declining resources, more emphasis should be put on community supervision, not jail or prison.
“Violent and career criminals need to be locked up, and for a long time. But our research shows that prisons are housing too many people who can be managed safely and held accountable in the community at far lower cost,” said Adam Gelb, director of the Center’s Public Safety Performance Project, which produced the report.
The United States has the highest incarceration rate and the biggest prison population of any country in the world, according to figures from the US Department of Justice.
Most of those in the US corrections system — one in 45 — are already on probation or parole, with one in 100 in prison or jail, the Pew study found.
Those numbers are higher in certain areas of the country, and Georgia tops all states with one in 13 adults in the justice system. The other leading states are Idaho, where one in 18 are in corrections and Texas, where the rate is one in 22. In the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., nearly 5 percent of adults are in the city’s penal system.
This was the first criminal justice study that took into account those on probation and parole as well as federal convicts, Pew said.
The numbers are also concentrated among groups, with a little more than 9 percent of black adults in prisons or jails or on probation or parole, as opposed to some 4 percent of Hispanics and 2 percent of whites.
Pew compiled the report as states consider cutting corrections spending during the recession. The research group said that by changing sentencing laws and probation programs states can lower incarceration rates and save money.
“Among the many programs that are competing for scarce taxpayer dollars, there is one area of the state budget that could use some trimming, and that area is corrections,” said Susan Urahn, the center’s managing director, in a call with reporters. “The bottom line is that states are spending too much.”
Penitentiary systems have been the fastest-growing spending area for states after Medicaid, the healthcare program for those with low income. Over the last 20 years their spending on criminal justice has increased more than 300 percent, the study found.
During the last 25 years prison and jail populations have grown 274 percent to 2.3 million in 2008, according to the Pew research, while those under supervision grew 226 percent over the same span to 5.1 million.
It estimated states spent a record $51.7 billion on corrections in fiscal year 2008 and incarcerating one inmate cost them, on average, $29,000 a year. But the average annual cost of managing an offender through probation was $1,250 and through parole $2,750.
“The huge differences between states are mostly due not to crime trends, or social and economic forces,” Gelb said. “The rates are different mostly because of choices that the states have made about how they respond to crime.”
“New community supervision strategies and technologies need to be strengthened and expanded, not scaled back. Cutting them may appear to save a few dollars, but it doesn’t,” Gelb said.
Some states have begun experimenting with ankle bracelets, Global Positioning Systems, and even kiosks akin to cash machines in order to track those on probation for less. JJS: Many governments break out their property tax bills so owners can see what portion goes to what — to schools, libraries, parks, etc. If we paid for prisons from land-tax revenue, we could get a bill that showed the 300% increased spending on criminal justice. Then taxpayers might consider, what is just?
Should we criminalize drug use but not alcohol use? Should we criminalize tax dodgers or make those civil suits? Taxes might not be just while user-fees and land dues could be found fair by juries of peers.
If we did drop taxes on our efforts and instead instituted land dues to recover the socially-generated values of land — the geonomic approach — then we would create so much economic opportunity that most marginalized young men would turn from crime to making useful contributions to society. And states could save multi-millions.
Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.
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