As has been well documented in recent years, jails and prisons are at or above capacity in many jurisdictions. The most recent report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics indicated there were 2.3 million inmates in local jails or in custody of state or federal prisons, a jump of 700 percent from 1973 to 2009. At the same time, the economic crisis of the last several years has seriously affected federal, state and local budgets, another issue that has been well documented reducing the ability to build new correctional facilities.
At the same time, the cost to incarcerate an inmate has gone up. States alone currently spend $52 billion a year on prisons. Various factors have contributed to the surge in prison populations over the last couple of decades, including mandatory minimum sentences, truth-in-sentencing policies and less discretion for parole agencies.
A recent Christian Science Monitor article suggests four possible suggestions for reducing prison overcrowding:
Revamp habitual offender laws: Habitual offender laws are directives that outline the penalties which must be given to usually repeat felony offenders. More than 20 states have them, like California, whose three strikes law can put non-violent offenders in jail for extended terms, including sometimes life in prison. While three strikes laws were meant to strike fear in criminals to avoid chronic criminal behavior, some are petitioning for modification of these laws to avoid mandatory and costly housing of non-violent offenders.
Implement misdemeanor reform: Another movement to reduce prison and jail population counts is decriminalizing certain minor offenses.
Limit the use of pre-trial detention: Approximately two-thirds of the nation’s incarcerated population is awaiting trial. Some corrections experts suggest many pretrial defendants could be housed in the community. BI Incorporated supports some of the largest pretrial supervision agencies nationwide, such as in Broward and Maricopa counties and Philadelphia, to supervise defendants in the community through location monitoring systems such as electronic monitoring, continuous alcohol monitoring, voice verification or GPS tracking. In turn, these agencies relieve pressure on the jail or prison and save money through lower cost alternatives.
Impose non-prison penalties: Finally, experts recommend using non-prison penalties such as cognitive behavior programs, GPS tracking, and alcohol monitoring to treat those arrested for minor violations like missing a court appearance. These methods, also offered by BI and GEO Care, address criminal thinking, alleviate prison overcrowding, improve public safety, and cost significantly less than incarceration. Click here to learn more about them.