Recently, The American Conservative published an article about the advantages of exploring alternatives to incarceration. Currently, the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the developed world, with 716 out of every 100,000 people in prison. According to the article, these high incarceration rates are expensive for taxpayers, ranging from $25,000 to $90,000 per inmate each year, depending on state or jurisdiction. Alternatives to prison, on the other hand, can be more cost-effective and even lead to greater public safety by reducing recidivism, according to the authors.
Vikrant P. Reddy and Marc A. Levin, article authors and senior policy advisers to the Right on Crime campaign in Austin, Texas, say that while prisons are important for protecting the community from violent, career offenders, incarcerating nonviolent offenders can be counter-productive. Reddy and Levin maintain that prisons are “graduate schools for crime,” making nonviolent, low-level offenders more likely to reoffend.
Reddy and Levin say rehabilitating nonviolent, low-level offenders is a better option than incarceration. By rehabilitating these offenders, you can break the cycle of crime. They can reenter society as productive members and save taxpayers money in the long run. Correctional alternatives to prison include electronic monitoring, problem-solving courts, and actuarial risk and needs assessments that match offenders with the right level and type of community supervision. Many states are exploring these alternatives and the results have been promising. In Texas, legislators allocated funds to community-based options including probation, problem-solving courts and evidence-based drug treatment. Since Texas shifted to these alternatives in 2007, crime has dropped by 25 percent.
According to the authors, the HOPE Court in Hawaii uses swift and certain sanctions to promote compliance with drug tests and probation. For example, drug offenders must comply with random drug testing. If they fail the drug tests, the court requires them to immediately go to jail for a short time, usually a weekend. These sanctions have led to a two-thirds decline in substance abuse and probation failures in the state. Other states exploring alternatives to incarceration and enacting major corrections reform include California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Louisiana and Georgia.