Economics and Incarceration

Harsh Criminal Justice Policies Hurt The Economy, White House Says

The economy is rarely something we associate with the criminal justice system due to the other persistent issues arising. However, this article presents a complex yet crucial argument to the broader picture of the department of corrective services. The article above outlines the issues the United States are facing in funding allocation with a very large portion going towards prison and custodial services and a bare minimum to other non-custodial pathways.

On the other hand, the Australian state of Victoria has only just announced new budget allocations for some key issues we are facing in the community relating to the criminal justice system. This includes a package of over $500 million towards family violence and over $200 million to Community Correctional Services to assist in supervising and monitoring offenders in the community. In addition, there is also funding towards post-sentence schemes for sex offenders, the Community Crime Prevention Program, emergency services and public safety packages for an increase in policing. One of the most significant changes in the state budget is the introduction of a new drug court in Melbourne to allow for more cases to be heard from a wider catchment area.

The proposal of a new drug court stems from the success of the existing drug court located in Dandenong where mainstream measures such as prison are less likely considered in contrast to alcohol and other drug rehabilitation facilities. There are also measures targeted to combat the ice epidemic which has had a substantial effect on the justice system with a fair portion of offenders being charged with methamphetamine related offences or crimes committed whilst under the influence of this drug. Attorney-General Martin Pakula has argued the proposal is crucial as the “status quo isn’t working”. Long prison sentences are not working. They are only increasing the imprisonment rates, leading criminals through the revolving door of offending and not adequately addressing the underlying issues of their substance dependency. They also cost a lot

The challenges the correctional systems of (most of) the world face is the balance between locking away criminals but also needing to rehabilitate them so they are prepared for their release and go on to lead a crime-free life. So the question is, if money is going to be spent on corrections, shouldn’t it be put to something that has a positive effect such as treatment and rehabilitation rather than prisons where 50% of offenders will return anyways?

Let’s do the maths.

According to the Victorian Department of Justice and Regulation, it cost $297 a day to hold each prisoner in 2015.
At the time, there were 6,219 prisoners in the system.
That is $1,850,000 a day spent by the government to house inmates.
That is close to $700 million a year, assuming the imprisonment rate stayed the same (which it didn’t because it is always increasing).

In addition to these statistics, consulting and advisory firm, Deloitte, has undertaken a report on the cost of keeping offenders in prison in comparison to residential treatment between 2012 and 2013. Despite having the Indigenous population as a focus, the research is easily applied to the entire population. The government would actually save money by placing those who are in need of substance intervention in residential rehabilitation rather than incarcerate them. The findings speak for themselves.

So why has this not been an option for those who need it until the last five years or so? The politicians and policy makers are too scared. It is incredibly easier to put someone in prison for non-violent offences than actually spending time with them to sort out what is going on in their life. Plus, ‘tough on crime’ law reforms and spending more and more money on harsh punishments win votes. The public would much rather vote for a politician who is going to lock up crooks rather than spend time and money on rehabilitating them to be better people. It is generally perceived that this money should go to ‘better things’ and to those who deserve it instead of criminals. Furthermore, the government is held accountable for any poor judgment. If an offender who is on a rehabilitative treatment plan does happen to violently re-offend, it is not a great look for policy makers, no matter how much money is saved for those ‘better things’.

That concludes my thoughts on the economics of incarceration for this weekend, let me know what you think!

Until next time.

L.