Kristin M. Sims
Contemporary Issues in Criminal Justice
CJA498-AUO R01 Instructor Jeff Cudworth
May 8, 2014
“Over the last 30 years, the population of the federal prison system has increased exponentially-nearly 800 percent-largely due to the overrepresentation of those convicted of drug offenses, many of whom are low-level and non-violent. Today, a record 218,000 people are confined within the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) operated facilities or in privately managed or community-based institutions and jails (Zeidman, 2012)”.
During the same time period, prison expenditures have increased greatly and the expense to maintain the “federal prison population has grown by 1700 percent since the 1980s and shows no signs of abating (Zeidman, 2012)”. It was announced at the Senate hearing to discuss the rising costs of incarceration, that the President had requested $6.9 billion for the board of prisons in 2013; this was increased from the 2012 budget of $278 million (Zeidman, 2012).
Get-tough policies on crime began as a result of the “increasing prices for crime as well as the prominent causes of criminal activity (Get-Tough Policy on Crime, 2014)” and culminated in the Three-Strike laws that many states have enacted. These policies led to overcrowding in the federal prison system with repeat drug offenders and misdemeanor offenders. The public’s opinions regarding incarceration or alternatives, and the costs associated with the two, varies greatly depending on the situation and the person being asked. Most community members would rather have misdemeanor offenders released on community supervision if it allows room for a violent criminal within the prison system. The cost of incarceration, with treatment, of a drug offender is approximately $30,000 annually while the cost of community-based treatment alone is under $10,000 per year (Alternatives to Incarceration, 2013). Dependent on the community, many may feel that it is preferable to release a non-violent offender to community supervision where the offender can pay for his, or her, own necessities through work programs; this also allows for the offender to pay for treatment and restitution to victims while showing accountability in the community through community services programs.
Since the 1990’s, there has been a steady decline in the rate of property crimes (.9%) in the United States and a slight increase in violent crimes (.7%) (Latest Crime Stats Released, 2013). This decline in property crimes suggests that the move toward rehabilitation, versus incarceration, for non-violent criminals may be the most successful answer to crime in the history of corrections. Holding the offender accountable to the community, while providing rehabilitation and treatment, has shown more success and less recidivism than the get-tough and three-strike laws.
In order to demonstrate the success of community resolution of conflict in corrections between incapacitation and correction I will refer to the status of juveniles within Ravalli County, Montana. The 2013 Annual Youth Court Report showed a reduction in youth crime at the rate of 7%, the 2014 Annual Report will show 6% recidivism (Arneson, 2013). In order to reduce the rate of recidivism in youth, the Ravalli County Youth Court has been following strict policies on graduated sanctions which work to maintain the youth within the community and family home. By applying community based services in a manner to not criminalize youth, the youth court has held offending youth accountable to their victims, the community, and keeping them from the department of corrections where they are more likely to become criminalized. It was discovered that removing a youth from his home and community, treating that youth, and then returning him to the same environment that supported the criminal behavior was ineffective; changing policy and procedure,