The Fiscal Case for Criminal Justice Reform
As prison populations grow each year, governments dedicate larger budgets to corrections. In 2006, justice-related expenditures for federal, state, and local governments totaled $214 billion. Corrections accounted for $69 billion, law enforcement $98 billion, and judicial $46 billion — an overall increase of more than six times in the past three decades.
A significant portion of prisoners committed crimes that were not violent or sexual, and that did not involve serious property loss or damage. Many of these individuals can be safely supervised through alternative means and still serve a sentence that fits the seriousness of their crime. Evidence-based alternatives are already in use in some places, usually for pre-trial supervision, probation, parole, or early release. Alternatives tend to be less costly than incarceration while also serving to rehabilitate the offender, which reduces recidivism. Thus, properly applied, alternatives save taxpayer money in both the short term — by saving incarceration costs — and the long term — by reducing recidivism and repeated system involvement.