Incarceration in the United States is expensive and not necessarily going to rehabilitate a "criminal." This node is about alternatives to throwing them in a cell, where they learn to become more of a criminal any way. Increasingly more people have been incarcerated, and we're just running out of space to put people.
States should emphasize a more rehabilitative approach to providing justice. The short-term costs of these rehabilitative methods will pay off in the long-term in savings and results. The justice system is increasingly expensive. Because the feds are not locking people up, most states are now trying to shed themselves of the prisoners they have, breaking the back of state governments. The most dangerous city is Chicago and New York. Much of these costs could be avoided if not for mandatory sentencing. Mandatory sentencing took away the ability of the judges to be lenient on the sentencing and the granting of earlier paroles, as well as case by case specificities that could not be addressed by the judge. A judge is more likely to be lenient with a youth committing their first offence than a repeat offender at age 50. Although judges can deviate from mandatory sentencing, they are required to give a long written opinion and it is difficult to obtain approval (the accused is mentally retarded, caretaker of small children). Because of mandatory sentencing our prisons and jails have become jam packed.
As people “do the time” they actually learn how to become even more of a criminal. Perhaps gossip about how to commit a crime without getting caught is circulated or whatnot. Nonetheless mandatory sentencing is a deterrent to criminals. What’s interesting about mandatory sentencing is that it came about in part because of diffusion of innovation, and became adopted by all states. Many states think that mandatory sentencing has taken the discretion out of the judicial system. Yes you can interpret the law case by case, but you have to do it this way with this grading system.
One option to cut costs would be parole. Parole is cost effective--it costs much less to have restitution institutions than to place all criminals in local jail and state prisons. Criminals are predictable. They have similar characteristics (unemployed, less than high school education, etc.). 80% of state felons are high school drop-outs (functionally illiterate). Surely these criminals are predictable enough to help prevent them from committing another crime while on parole. Educational programs and crime prevention is key.
Another factor that states could take into consideration before throwing someone in a cell and throwing the key away is the person’s situation. A perpetrators history should come into question. Is it a rational crime? Are they threatening anyone/does it involve others? Is this a hostile person? Is it a crime of passion? (Perpetrator knows the victim). The Supreme Court has no enforcement powers over the state (states ignore them all the time) so maybe the courts could take part in the solution to rehabilitation via parole.
The Juvenile Justice System is another place that could use reform. Why not fix the problem before it becomes a larger one? The system was established in 1859, when there was a need for trained and educated professionals for children (they have different needs). Placing children in adult prisons would make them more anti-social and more likely to commit crimes. The system can "rescue and reform" them before they became adults, and make them useful citizens again. States set up juvenile courts. The Supreme Court was silent on the issue of how younger citizens should be treated and what rights they should be privy to. Again the Supreme Court could come in and help...
The Real Solution:
Drug treatment is the most important alternative to prison. Because an overly majority of prisoners are non violent criminals, most of them are in for selling or purchasing drugs. The drug users themselves need rehab, and rehab will not cost nearly as much as imprisoning them. “North Carolina – Alternative programs that divert felony drug offenders to substance abuse treatment programs rather than prison terms could save the U.S. criminal justice system millions of dollars and reduce recidivism, according to a study conducted by researchers at RTI International.” (Druge Rehab) Instead of a five year term for holding cocaine, they will get a 15 to 24 month rehabilitation. Addicts who successfully complete such a program would have their charges dismissed. Or they go to prison. Figures show that this could prevent 87% of drug users from entering the prison system.
Other rehabilitating programs could include faith based rehabilitation. Where religion helps inmates “repent of their criminal ways.” This is underway now under the InnerChange Freedom Initiative. Harsher approaches include “Pay for your prison stay,” and installing breathalyzers on vehicles that prevent the ignition from starting for people that have been given a DUI before, chemical castration for repeat offenders of child molestation, abolish prisons and take the money and reinvest it into education and the job market, and finally public shame (put some billboards up of men who had visited a prostitute). Or if the government can’t rehabilitate them, execution would solve the problem – except that it costs even more for a death row inmate whose appeals to the courts never end. With all these methods explored there is only one that stands out.
The best and most cost effective remedy to the incarceration rate is drug rehab. It will keep more people out of jail/prison, putting them back onto the streets with a high success rate, and save the government millions of dollars. There is justice to helping the addicted. Most Americans agree that helping drug addicts get off their addiction instead of throwing them into jail is the better method any way. People won’t allow for any of the other methods to be instituted on a national government scale. In Arizona and California initiatives have already started to put drug users into rehab instead of sending them to prison. “Voters approved initiatives to divert low-level drug offenders from prison and jail.” (http://www.rand.org/news/press.05/06.23.html) The same article later stated, “The Drug Medicalization, Prevention and Control Act (Proposition 200) approved by Arizona voters in 1996 allows nonviolent drug offenders to be sentenced to mandatory drug treatment. The Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act (Proposition 36) approved by California voters in 2000 allows people serving first- and second-time convictions for nonviolent drug possession or drug use to receive probation with drug treatment instead of prison.” This proves people are willing to use rehab over incarceration.
The results of drug rehab are also promising, at least more promising than throwing someone into prison. If a person goes to prison/jail once, an overtly majority of them will go again, and again. Rehab will see a smaller portion of repeat offenders, but will also have repeats. This is understandable though, kicking an addition can be tough. But in rehab instead of prison success rates will be higher. “Recent developments in criminal justice indicate the emergence of a national movement in favor of treating, rather than incarcerating, non-violent drug possession offenders. These developments include drug courts, local policies which favor treatment, and statewide ballot initiatives that divert non-violent drug offenders to treatment instead of incarceration.” (Drug Policy)