Read the first chapter here
I want to emphasize that we can make many changes without upfront costs and that these changes will yield millions of dollars.
“For the more than 600,000 people who leave prison and re-enter society every year, finding employment can be a severe challenge. Prison time carries a social stigma, which makes finding any job, let alone a good job, all too difficult. The Labor Department doesn’t track the unemployment rate for people with prison records.
But a 2006 study by the Independent Committee on Reentry and Employment found that up to 60% if formerly incarcerated people are unemployed one year after release...”
So there is not only the actual cost of incarcerated but the cost to society of loss productivity to society as well as the associated social services that will linger for years to come. The actual costs of incarceration vary from state to state as well as from local jails to prisons. In the state of Missouri, the cost has been listed at $244.30 for a day and $89,170 for a year. That is near the middle of costs for all states and does not include the costs of policing and court costs. If we can reduce the number of people in prisons, we can save a millions of dollars.
As an example, Texas was on the verge of building another prison, but was able to close two prisons just by the decriminalization of some offenses of juveniles. We can take this a step farther by decriminalizing offenses of adults as well as the young. We can take some offenses completely off the table because they don't hurt anyone and we can reduce felonies to misdemeanors because they are non-violent. I don't think anyone should be arrested for jay walking (unless they are causing traffic problems or injury to someone), let alone to be shot in the back and killed.
Individual cities and states can decriminalize many laws but for the best results, we need Congress to step up and set standards that will apply across the country. What would take cities and states years to do, if they would all try, can be done with the will of Congress. In many cases, we are talking about the civil rights of individuals and especially of the poor and citizens of color, many of these laws are enforced in areas where they live. This makes an uneven application of Justice for All.
I have already mentioned jaywalking as a law to reduce or eliminate. If we decriminalized personal use amounts of drugs, our jails would rapidly reduce their population. Now I could have mentioned drugs by name, for example, marijuana, and many would have agreed with me. But I am leaving the term drugs as generic because we have a bigger problem with doctor prescribed drugs than with illegal drugs. In addition, many searches are made for just a trace of any drug in order to bring charges. These searches are almost entirely limited to the inner-city and people of color even though searches of white citizens yield more drugs. Leave the drug dealers to the police, but leave those with just a small amount of drugs alone. We will be more apt to have Justice for All.
Another offense that can result in jail time would be traffic tickets. With some cities using traffic offenses as a means to generate revenue, the abuse of traffic tickets along with pressure or quotas by city hall can result in jail time. At some areas near St Louis, Mo have been found to have an average of 3 unpaid traffic tickets for each resident. For the poor, this means that they will be unable to keep up on fines and eventually many of them end up in jail.
I also think of the staking out of decoys to catch prostitutes. If the city or state wants to criminalize prostitution, then go after the pimps and customers. Many, if not all, of the prostitutes become involved in the trade because of sexual abuse, a violent home life or the lack of a job as well as mental illness. They usually are poor without legal representation and will end up in the revolving door of jail. If the customer and johns are targeted, then the prostitution problem will be cleared up just as rapidly as targeting the poorer person of our society. The results will be less of a revolving door in jail for the prostitute.
Other felonies can be reduced to misdemeanors such as non-violent crimes and raising the limit on shop lifting before it becomes a felony offense. When our banking officials can bring our country to its financial knees without any criminal charges, but stealing a candy bar ends up with an arrest, one wonders where our Justice for All resides.
Changing our laws in the noted instance would immediately mean that thousands across our nation would not go to jail. In addition, those already charged could have their sentences reduced and in some cases they would be allowed to go free. (note: The Sentencing Project found that “• New York and New Jersey led the nation by reducing their prison populations by 26% between 1999 and 2012, while the nationwide state prison population increased by 10%. • California downsized its prison population by 23% between 2006 and 2012. During this period, the nationwide state prison population decreased by just 1%. • During their periods of decarceration, violent crime rates fell at a greater rate in these three states than they did nationwide “ ). We would immediately see our incarceration costs reduced and as in the case of Texas, we would be able to close many jails and prisons. Add in the cost of arresting and booking someone (Texas puts this at $1200.00) and soon we are saving lots of money. All this with no cost and lots of savings. Now we go to another action which again reduces jail time.
Texas is still having problems with their penal system, but they did make tremendous strides in their juvenile system and to give you an idea of the possible savings as posted by “The Texas Observer”:
In 2007, before Texas lawmakers began these reforms, 4,305 youths were locked up in state-run facilities. Today, less than 1,000 kids are locked up in state facilities.
The state also cut its spending on state-run juvenile lockups by $179 million, and closed eight of its lockups. Over the same period, researchers found, statewide juvenile arrests fell by one third.
Per capita spending at county probation departments increased from $4,337 to $7,304 from 2005 to 2012—counties, in other words, had more money to spend on each child in the local justice system.
In conclusion, decriminalization of laws through Congressional actions could reduce our unjust prison system and save hundreds of millions of moneywithout investment and an almost immediate result.
Read more in the book:
The Manhattan Bail Project
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Crisis Intervention for the Mental Ill and Drug Addiction
“Pipeline to Prison” Our Young Black Girls
“Pipeline to Prison” for Our African American Boys
Conclusions and Additional 'Resources and Readings'