Alternatives to Prison

By · Thursday, March 19th, 2009

The U.S. Sentencing Commission issued a report that said “alternate sanctions [to imprisonment] are important options for federal, state, and local criminal justice systems.” The report went on to hold that “alternatives to incarceration can provide a substitute for costly incarceration.

Despite the published statements by the United States Sentencing Commission, judges rely on imprisonment in increasing numbers of cases. Over a ten-year period, the report showed that judges increased their imposition of prison terms over alternative sanctions by 10 percentage points, from 75.4 percent to 85.3 percent. Prison is becoming America’s de facto response to all offenses.

This tough-on-crime stance may sound effective, but it comes at a high cost to American citizens. The Pew Report showed that the costs of America’s prison system have grown faster than any other agency besides Medicaid. The funds pilfered by the prison system result in slashed budgets for education, health care, and public assistance. Those short-sighted policies result in more crime and thus more prison spending. Even Justice Kennedy says that America incarcerates too many people, and American prisoners serve sentences that are too long. I would introduce legislative prison reforms that would allow prison administrators to implement incentive systems through which¬† prisoners could work to earn freedom through merit. Such a fundamental shift would encourage more prisoners to adjust in positive ways. Those who followed administrative guidance to work toward earning freedom would return to their communities with a higher order of values, more skills, and perhaps a sponsoring network that would allow them to contribute as law-abiding citizens.

Zuleyma Sarmiento, a criminal justice student, asked how I thought such reform would influence society. They would:

*lower prison operating costs

*lower recidivism rates

*lessen prison overcrowding burdens

*contribute to safer communities

*leave more funding available for education and social programs in society

By not implementing these kinds of reform, society can expect the cycle of failure to continue.

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