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December 27, 2016

Making the fiscal, anti-government-waste case against excessive incarceration

This commentary authored by a business columnist in Texas makes a "government waste" case against having too many persons in prison.  The piece is headlined "Misused prisons waste capital, labor and real estate," and here is how it gets started:

An executive can commit no greater sin in business than to misuse capital, labor or real property, the foundations of wealth. No government program wastes all three more than the prison system, where taxpayer money is spent to lock people up in publicly owned facilities. That's why societies must make sure prisons are used only for those we fear, and not for those with whom we are only angry.

Texas, though, spends too much money imprisoning people who should be rehabilitated by other means, according to Bill Hammond, president and CEO of the Texas Association of Business. The state's chamber of commerce has joined conservative and liberal organizations to create the Smart-on-Crime Coalition to demand better. "Texas has the largest prison population of any state in the country. Nearly 145,000 are incarcerated, and a significant percentage of those are low-level offenders. People who are being held for violating parole or minor drug crimes," Hammond said. "Violent criminals, rapists and sexual offenders do belong in prison. However, there are some people whom we do not think belong in prison because of the cost."

Texas spends about $3 billion a year on prisons. Keeping someone behind bars costs about $50 a day, compared with $3 a day for supervised probation. With Texas lawmakers facing an $8 billion shortfall to maintain the current level of government services in 2018-2019, they need to find savings, and criminal justice is overdue for an overhaul.

Hammond explained at an Austin news conference that it's not just about saving taxpayer money, though. It's about keeping nonviolent offenders employed and providing for their families while making restitution. Diversion programs and alternative sentencing can also force offenders to get treatment for drug addiction and mental health problems that underlie most crimes today. "You are talking about individuals who are working, who are paying taxes, who are paying child support. They should be part of the community and part of the workforce instead of rotting in some prison at a high cost to taxpayers," Hammond said.

December 27, 2016 at 06:42 PM | Permalink

Comments

$50. Biggest bargain ever.

It prevents a violent crime causing $10,000 in damages, each day.

It prevents a non-violent crime, each day, that drops real estate values by $10,000, not to mention the value of the quality of life in the surrounding area. That effect is priceless.

Posted by: David Behar | Dec 28, 2016 12:01:04 AM

"Violent criminals, rapists and sexual offenders do belong in prison. However, there are some people whom we do not think belong in prison because of the cost."

Here we go again, throwing around the term "sex offender", lumping everyone from the public urinator to violent pedophile under one broad term and suggesting they all need to be in prison, that they are all violent..

Maybe Mr. Hammond should check out the receitivism rates on "sex offenders", one of the lowest rates of all those who have been imprisoned. He should also educate himself so he knows exactly who gets labeled "sex offender", all it takes is one skinny dip during a hot Texas night and he too could end up labeled for life.

Posted by: kat | Dec 28, 2016 12:15:49 PM

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