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Alternative Proposal to Prison Overcrowding

by Michelle Calderon, Staff Writer for AnaiRhoads.org.

22 February 2007


AnaiRhoads.org – The nations’ prison systems are experiencing major problems, especially, overcrowding. Overcrowding is both inhumane to the prisoner and dangerous to the prison staff. “Prisons and jails should have two results; 1) keep dangerous criminals off the streets and 2) create a deterrent for committing a crime” (UOT, n.d.). The present system has failed to do either. Early release programs let prisoners out of jail before their sentence is complete. This promotes good behavior in prison and keeps the prison population lower. However, many released prisoners just commit another crime and are returned to jail. Rapists and child molesters are being set free. Dangerous criminals are walking the streets. Change must be implemented.

As the Commissioner of Corrections, there are two options available in alleviating the overcrowded prison system. The first option is to build an additional medium security prison, which would transfer some of the existing inmates, and to house new inmates. New prisons would temporarily relieve the overcrowding problem. Like many other prisons, eventually overcrowding would again occur, starting the cycle over again. Would building new prisons alleviate the problem of overcrowding? Building more facilities is expensive and does not solve anything. These problems can be solved by imprisoning only certain offenders: the violent, the serial killers, the sex offenders, the repeat offenders, and so on. The non-violent offenders should enter a rehabilitative alternative program (work programs, drug facilities, boot camps, house arrest, probation, and so forth) for the duration of their sentence.

Alternatives programs (such as mentioned above) maintain a treatment element: educational development, alcohol and drug treatment, and job training. Instead of spending idle time, an offender’s time is put to good use, working on the factors in his or her life that led them to a brush with the criminal justice system. Another benefit would be a better option to the cost of housing an inmate to the cost of alternative sentencing. For example, in the state of California (specifically, the City of Los Angeles), the cost of an inmate in county jail per month is around $4,000.00 including housing, food, clothing, medical, security, and other needs. Alternative programs allow offenders to remain in the community and avoid break in family and community ties. Instead, the State “saves the cost of housing an inmate, as well as welfare costs which may have been incurred for the support of an offender’s family. Offenders placed in some alternative programs are often employed and paying taxes” (DOC, n.d.).

Simply warehousing inmates in another prison at the taxpayer’s expense does not prevent recidivism. Not requiring offenders (who will eventually be placed back into society) to complete any type of additional rehabilitative program has the potential to be a risk to public safety in the long term. Intermediate sanctions are beneficial because they provide a measure of rehabilitation to the non-violent inmates while also saving the taxpayers the cost of warehousing them. Intermediate sanctions allow the inmate some flexibility and the ability to demonstrate the responsibility to hold down a job. By having the inmates actually work instead of sitting in prison awaiting their release, they earn money to pay off their court costs, child support, etc. Such economic and rehabilitative benefit certainly is a motivation to fund alternative sentencing.

There are public safety implications in releasing or not incarcerating offenders. Choosing specific non-violent offenders is important. Through a risk-assessment report, based on the history of the offender), the recommendation of a probation officer, compliance with an alternative sentencing facility complete with a program plan, social service availability, income verification, and many other factors, decision-makers have a way of choosing which offender should be placed in the programs. Not all non-violent offenders may qualify. Some offenders with a violent history may qualify. The idea behind alternative programs is to benefit the community and the offender, with safety as the main concern for the public. The risk to the community should be very low in consideration of the whole picture.

After qualifying an offender, there are still further precautions to be taken. All probationers/parolees will be closely monitored while at home as well as through their employer. If offenders violate the terms of their probation/parole, they will be sent back to prison/jail. However, if they prove to the court they can be trusted to hold down a job and not get into trouble, then that is one more step they have taken towards being rehabilitated. Eventually, the inmates will be released back into society. It is more beneficial to have them demonstrate some responsibility and the ability to be a contributing member of society then to simply wait in prison until they are released.

As mentioned, not all offenders are eligible for placement in transitional centers, “such as those sentenced under “Two Strikes” and “Seven Deadly Sins” laws (DOC, n.d.) “In-house” intervention would then need to be in place within the facility to aid in the reintegration process. The Commissioner of Corrections proposal for alternative sentencing is only aimed at offenders that pose minimal threat to society. The goal is to avoid the overwhelming costs and consequences of overcrowding.

References:

Department of Corrections. (n.d.). Benefits of Alternative Sanctions.

University of Texas. (n. d.). Prisons do not Work.

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