A new report from the National Research Council has reviewed mounds of criminological data and come to the conclusion that current incarceration costs far outweigh the benefits. This leads to the suggestion that the US must drastically overhaul its failing criminal justice system, making an effort to significantly reduce its incarceration rate.
Currently, more than 2.2 million adults are currently in the nations prisons or jails, a 500% increase over the past 30 years, at a rate of roughly 1 in 100 adults. Due to a heightened enforcement strategy beginning around 1980, incarceration rates have climbed at an alarming rate.
The council compared scientific evidence on the effects of high incarceration rates on public safety, US society, other prisoners, families, and the community. Most notably, the high incarceration rates place a pressing financial burden on society.
With corrections funding eating up more state funding than education, transportation, and public assistance services (sometimes combined). Corrections receives the 3rd highest amount of allocated funding in most states, operating with billions of dollars. New York City for example, paid roughly $167,731 per inmate in 2012 in order to feed, house and guard each inmate. The Vera Institute of Justice looked at 40 states in 2012 and determined that their aggregate cost of operating exceeds $39 billion, many departments commonly operating in excess of their allotted budget.
The process of deciding whether incarceration is justified requires an analysis of both the social costs versus any benefits. This equation should weigh the importance of recognizing the harm that is experienced by the victims of crime, appropriately addressing those damages, and then reinforcing society’s disapproval of criminal behavior by reducing the odds of such happening again.
However, the committee stressed that future policy decisions should not only be based on empirical evidence but that they should also attempt to follow these four guiding principles, which have been notably absent from recent policy debates on the proper use of prisons:proportionality, parsimony, citizenship, and social justice.
- Proportionality: Criminal offenses should be sentenced in proportion to their seriousness.
- Parsimony: The period of confinement should be sufficient but not greater than necessary to achieve the goals of sentencing policy.
- Citizenship: The conditions and consequences of imprisonment should not be so severe or lasting as to violate one’s fundamental status as a member of society.
- Social justice: Prisons should be instruments of justice, and as such their collective effect should be to promote society’s aspirations for a fair distribution of rights, resources, and opportunities.
“We are concerned that the United States is past the point where the number of people in prison can be justified by social benefits,… We need to embark on a national conversation to rethink the role of prison in society. A criminal justice system that makes less use of incarceration can better achieve its aims than a harsher, more punitive system. There are common-sense, practical steps we can take to move in this direction”. – committee chair Jeremy Travis, president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.
The council proposed setting the objective that prison conditions be improved, and an effort made to reduce the unnecessary harm to the families involved and community of those incarcerated. They also suggest re-examining the policies requiring mandatory and long sentences, as increased age bears a strong correlation with reduced recidivism.
Currently, the U.S. has nearly one-quarter of the world’s entire prison population, although they only possess 5 percent of the world’s population. Many of these offenders are also serving long and unjustified sentences for victimless crimes related to drugs. The National Research Council also made the recommendation that US authorities re-think their drug policies, and there’s no wonder why. There also exist effective rehabilitation techniques, themselves often cheaper and more effective than punishment, but alas this is also tendentially ignored.