It is no secret that existing state and federal prison systems are too often models of inefficiency and ineffectiveness. Outdated facilities have been unable to keep up with growing prison populations. And despite the astronomical costs of housing prison inmates (a study of New York state facilities estimates that annual cost per prisoner is a staggering $167,731 – enough to send that same prisoner to an Ivy League school with full room and board for four years), recidivism rates remain around 40 percent.
In 2010, the Justice Reinvestment Initiative was launched in 17 states, with the objective of introducing cost-efficient reforms to the criminal justice system and analyzing their impact. Initial reports from those states indicates that the program could help them save up to $4.6 billion a year, in addition to reducing prison populations. Projecting these savings nationwide, the initiative could produce a positive return of 270 times the federal government’s investment of $17 million.
A recent article on the initiative in the Washington Post highlights some of the program’s proposed investments:
- increased funding for mental health and substance abuse services;
- changing sentencing guidelines, including the removal of “mandatory minimum” sentences;
- improved supervision of support programs;
- reformed parole processes.
While it is still too early to draw definitive conclusions from the initial reports, all indications point to a huge increase in the efficiency of the nation’s corrections system for a relatively tiny investment.
Justice Fellowship, the policy arm of Prison Fellowship, promotes the understanding that being “smart on crime” – and not just being “hard on crime” – is the key to reducing incarceration and recidivism rates. By implementing common sense reforms like those proposed by the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, the criminal justice system can become more effective in breaking the cycle of crime that all too often enslaves individuals, families, and communities – all while saving taxpayer money. To learn more about Justice Fellowship and its work of restorative justice, visit www.justicefellowship.org.