Funding a Broken System

According to the Center for economic and policy research (cepr), the United States spends about $75 billion on corrections and most of that money is spent on incarceration. To put this in perspective, the money spent on corrections is more than DOUBLE the GDP of many countries such as  Albania, Nicaragua, and Jamaica. These costs are covered by covered by taxpayers who must constantly compensate for the increasing rate of incarceration. The average cost per inmate various largely from state to state, ranging from around $14,000 to over $60,000. State governments are responsible for running prison systems and can set up their on choice of corrections facilities. A 2008 cepr research states “reducing the number of non-violent offenders in our prisons and jails by half would lower this bill by $16.9 billion per year, with the largest share of these savings accruing to financially squeezed state and local governments.”

Figure 1

The U.S. is not only increasing incarceration rates compared to other countries, it is also increasing in comparison to historical standards in this country. From 1880 to 1970 incarceration rates ranged between 100 and 200 per 100,000. Then  around 1980, the prison and jail population experienced a huge spike than the overall population, climbing from about 220 (per 100,000) in 1980, to 458 in 1990, to 683 in 2000, and finally to 753 by 2008 (cepr). In a nation still in recovery from a historical economic crisis, it is hard to believe the billions of dollars being spend on an increasingly dysfunctional system. For the past three decades Federal, State and Local government have decided to just throw money at the problem (at a sever cost to taxpayers) and ignored the evidence that shows that imprisoning more people is not an effective solution to deal with criminals.

it is past time to come up with cost effective measures to deal with crime. The government (at all three levels) should explore cost-cutting improvements such as decreasing the number of non-violent offenders in prison. These offenders can experience alternative punishments such as probation or parole. The government can so spend more money on programs that are designed to make sure that offenders who have served their time can re-join society easily. These programs provide job training and opportunities, and educational training. This will help decrease the number of returning offenders to the prison system.

What suggestions do you have for how to reduce the cost of the U.S. prison system?



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