Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Overincarceration is Us

Justice Anthony Kennedy spoke out against excessive prison sentences this month in California, criticizing the state’s deeply misguided three-strikes law. It was a welcome message, delivered with unusual force. Much of the blame for the law, however, lies with the Supreme Court, which upheld it in a decision on which Justice Kennedy cast the deciding vote.


Here is the problem in a nutshell:

"Sentences in the United States are eight times longer than those handed out in Europe, Justice Kennedy said. California has 185,000 people in prison at a cost of $32,500 each per year, he said. He urged voters and elected officials to compare taxpayer spending on prisons with spending on elementary education."

Idaho currently spends 9.4 percent of its budget on "public safety" (which does not include local police, jails, etc.) and 10.1 percent of the budget on colleges and universities. So our problem is not on the same scale as that of California, but we have a crisis just the same.

Cutting the correction budget without reducing the number of people incarcerated and/or supervised in the community is reckless and will cost more money in the future. The impact on future victims and offenders is incalculable.

The U.S. has 2.3 million individuals incarcerated. That is more people and a larger percentage of the population than any place on the planet. We have become a nation of jailers.

So we have to ask is this what we want? Do we want to spend more money on prisons? Where is Idaho in the discussion about reducing its own over reliance on incarceration?

No comments: