Hard-working tax payers finance an ever-expanding criminal justice system to the tune of billions of dollars annually to house over two million men and women in our nation’s prisons and jails. From a purely economic standpoint, perhaps one could make a legitimate argument that this would be a worthwhile “investment” if in fact it reduced crime, made society more safe in the short and long term, and rehabilitated inmates so they could return to their communities as productive, contributing members. Unfortunately, this is far from the case.
The fact of the matter is tax payers are forced to perpetually fund a system of warehousing humans that, in fact, ends up creating more crime, adding to further costs to the tax payer. Contrary to popular belief, incarcerating people for longer sentences does not reduce crime. Crime rates have fluctuated over the past three decades, despite the mandatory minimums that abound in numerous states across the country. In fact, in states such as Florida and New York, for example, both saw reductions in their crime rates after they abolished their mandatory minimum sentencing laws for certain crimes.
A statistic that is indisputable, though, is the lowered recidivism rates for those who are afforded the opportunity to receive a college education while incarcerated. Up until the mid 1990s, both federal and state inmates were eligible to receive the Federal Pell Grant to pursue a college education. When these folks were allowed to earn a quality education while incarcerated, many released from prison and went on to find and maintain decent paying jobs, thus paying taxes that benefited their communities, states, and, most important, dramatically reduced their likelihood of ever recidivating. This should be an ideal outcome we should all want for incarcerated individuals in our country; apparently not everyone agrees. It’s also noteworthy to mention the cost for inmates to earn a college education through the Federal Pell Grant program was less than one percent of the entire program’s budget!
It’s not difficult to understand why there is a strong correlation between education and recidivism. When one leaves prison with a degree in hand, he or she is instantly more employable. They have attained a skill level and credential that enable them to exude more confident on interviews. They take a sense of pride in being able to earn a decent wage that enables them to adequately support their families. They feel as though they have a place and stake in society. Crime loses its appeal of economic benefit or otherwise because now they have more to lose. In this scenario, it is society that benefits from this person’s transformation that was made available by attaining an education while incarcerated. But there is another important component to this picture.
It’s no secret that the War on Drugs has swept millions into the criminal justice system. Yet, drugs continue to pervade our society and remain in our public discourse. So it begs the question: does locking up low-level drug users for possession of an illegal substance–often times multiple times–have a tangible benefit for society? Again, billions of tax payer dollars go into housing, clothing, and feeding these inmates for years while incarcerated. It would make the case that these people pose a greater risk to themselves through their addiction than they do to society, yet society is forced to absorb the cost to incarcerate them. It would also seem to me that the exorbitant amount of money spent to incarcerate them would be better spent to provide them with substance abuse treatment, job training, and other life skills programs that would aid them in their transition from addiction to becoming a contributing member of society. I’m under no illusion that all who are offered this help will be transformed, but even if only half are, wouldn’t that yield enough benefit to justify the continuance of such a program?
Most Americans are aware of the incarceration rate statistics in this country as they are reiterated through politicians, media figures, books, and other sources of information. The trend of expanding our jail/prison population means more money paid into this system–money paid for by you, the hard-working tax payer. If I were a tax payer, I would want more for my money than warehousing people who will, if not educated and/or give meaningful drug treatment, will likely re-offend once released. The math is simple: you either pay relatively little now or pay a lot more later.
Martin Lockett is serving a 17 1/2 year sentence for a tragic car accident. Martin has substantially turned his life around by completing his Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology, published his first book and is currently working on his Masters in Psychology. Martin plans to counsel at risk youth when he is released. He hopes his insight, thoughts and experiences from prison will help those who have a loved one incarcerated or someone facing prison time.
To read more about Martin, CLICK HERE
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