Saturday, October 15, 2011

Notes on Improving Our Criminal Justice System

Providence, R.I.--

On the theory that people read this blog because they are interested in some combination of public affairs, Alaska matters, and what I have to say, here are my notes for a speech I gave last week to the Anchorage chapter of NALS, "the association for legal professionals."

Alternatives to Incarceration:

The Need for “Smart Justice”

Cliff Groh

The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world.

The percentage of Alaska’s population in custody has more than tripled in the past three decades.

If Alaska’s total population had increased in the last 30 years at the same rate as its population in custody has gone up, today there would be as many people in this state as there are in Houston, Texas.

The United States imprisons people at a rate six times higher than that of Canada.   

One in 31 adults in the U.S. is either behind bars or on supervised release.

“Either we are the most evil people on earth or we doing something very wrong.” – U.S. Senator Jim Webb

If our criminal justice system worked right, we could cut imprisonment AND cut crime.

Let’s talk about:

            --Why our system grew so overburdened and turned bad

            --The ways in which our system is too costly and ineffective

            --How our system could be better

Growth in prison populations reflects several factors:   taking some crimes more seriously, growing severity of sentences generally, increase in imprisonment of drug offenders, use of prisons as holding facilities for the mentally ill, and substantial disparities in ethnic composition of the inmates.

Putting people behind bars is expensive.   The growing costs of paying for incarceration around the country is now crowding out or will soon crowd out spending for other public programs, particularly education.

It costs$49,800.60 to keep someone in prison for a year in Alaska vs. $52,652 to put an undergraduate student at Harvard for a year of tuition, room, and board.

The criminal justice system is too often ineffective.

More than 90 percent of all people in prison are eventually released, and more than one-half of the people released from prison are back behind bars in three years.

We could reduce imprisonment AND reduce crime by relying on “Smart Justice” moves.

One expert—UCLA Professor Mark Kleiman—estimates that we could simultaneously cut incarceration in half AND cut crime in half in 10 years if we moved to a system of “smart justice.” 

A system that moved away from the current random severity towards swifter and more certain punishment would work better and be cheaper.  

Don’t be hard or soft—be smart. 

Swift and certain equals smart.

Smart justice uses insights from parenting and psychological research and technological progress.

Enforce probation and parole conditions faster and more predictably.   

--The HOPE program in Hawaii shows the way.    Sending felony probationers who failed or missed drug tests immediately to prison for 48-hour stays cut their arrest rate for new crimes by two-thirds.
--Even Texas is expanding drug treatment and other programs in lieu of building more prisons.

Give most people in the system shorter stays in less pleasant and safer custodial situations.

Use electronic monitoring as much as possible.  It costs $136.44 per day to keep someone in prison in Alaska vs. $21.25per day for electronic monitoring.

Put people in prison mostly because you’re afraid of them, not because you’re mad at them.   Candidates for long sentences are:

--The truly dangerous.

--Repetitive rule-breakers in new system (like somebody who cuts off his ankle bracelet).

--A few to make unusual examples of.

Hire more police officers and probation and parole officers as opposed to more prison guards. 

1 comment:

akbright said...

"Smart on Crime" is much more effective, or at least to me, than "Tough on Crime".
-also, let's do away with the 3 Strikes Rule.