Federal Prison Overcrowding—Costs, Reasons, and Alternatives!

Why are prisons in the U. S. costing the taxpayers over $65 billion dollars a year? Prison overcrowding is excessive. Three, four, and five inmates are housed in inhumane 8' by 10' cells which far exceed current standards and regulations. Why?
By: Michael Frantz, Director of JailTime Consulting
Oct. 12, 2011 - PRLog -- Why are prisons and incarceration in the United States costing the taxpayers over $65 billion dollars a year? Prison overcrowding is excessive in almost every state in the union and federal prisons are bursting at the seams. Three, four, and five inmates are housed in 8' by 10' cells which far exceed the standards and regulations currently in effect. Why does the United States have the largest number of its citizens behind bars than any other country in the world? Is it worth it? Do we really need to tax our citizens and spend $65 billion a year on prisons and incarceration?

There are several factors which contribute to the overcrowded state in prisons in the United States. First, the obsessive view from some lawmakers that the only way to reduce crime is to keep offenders off the streets no matter what the crime. In other words, don’t worry about rehabilitation; just keep the offenders in jail for the rest of their lives and pay the cost of housing, boarding, and punishing them. Their view is that punishment is the deterrent and that we should not waste money on rehabilitation.

Second, certain federal prosecutors have the “win at all costs mentality.” All they care about is getting a conviction. They will withhold critical evidence from the defense team and will resort to immoral if not illegal tactics in their investigation of the offense. Their personal opinion is that they actually do not care if the defendant is guilty or innocent, they just want a conviction. They want to extract their “pound of flesh.”

Third, the crackdown on white collar crime and the new so called corporate crime is a major cause of prison overcrowding. White-collar crime has been defined as "a crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation". White-collar crime also overlaps with corporate crime which is defined as “crimes committed either by a corporation, i.e., a business entity having a separate legal personality from the individuals that manage its activities), or by individuals acting on behalf of a corporation or other business entity." This includes fraud, bribery, insider trading, embezzlement, computer crime, copyright infringement, money laundering, identity theft, forgery, and IRS violations. This type of crime is available to the so-called “white-collar” employees.

Fourth, the number of new admissions due to technical parole or probation violations, new court commitments, minor drug violations, and the mentality by federal prosecutors that the only type of incarceration is “behind bars” is a growing concern. Yet there are alternatives to incarceration that may be used as a means of reducing the prison population by sentencing inmates to the alternative in place of prison or jail. Alternatives to incarceration include such items as Electronic Monitoring; Drug Courts; Mental Health Courts; Restorative Justice, Domestic Violence Courts; Day Reporting Centers; Fines; Community Service; Probation; Pre-Trial Diversion, and Parole. There is ample research supporting each one of these sanctions in place of federal incarceration. Contact a reputable prison coach http://www.jailtimeconsulting.com/about-mike-frantz.php or federal prison consultant http://jailtimeconsulting.com/index.php to learn about these. Not all of these alternatives are appropriate for every offender, but there are a large number of offenders for whom these alternative sanctions are not only appropriate but also very realistic.

Finally, “mandatory minimums” are a huge problem that is causing prison overcrowding and is a “length of stay” issue. A mandatory minimum sentence is defined as a court decision setting where judicial discretion is limited by law. Typically, defendants convicted of certain crimes must be punished with at least a minimum number of years in prison. In the United States, federal juries are generally not allowed to be informed of the mandatory minimum penalties that may apply if the defendant is convicted, because the jury's role is limited to a determination of guilt or innocence. Research indicates that mandatory minimum sentencing effectively shifts discretion from judges to the prosecutors. Prosecutors decide what charges to bring against a defendant, and they can "stack the deck," which involves over-charging a defendant in order to get them to plead guilty. Since prosecutors are part of the executive branch, and the judicial branch has almost no role in the sentencing, the checks and balances of the democratic system are removed. Opponents of mandatory sentencing argue that it is the proper role of a judge, not a prosecutor, (who only wants a conviction at any cost) to apply discretion given the particular facts of a case (e.g. whether a drug defendant was a kingpin or low-level participant). In addition to fairness arguments, some opponents believe that treatment is more cost-effective than long sentences. They also cite a survey indicating that the public now prefers judicial discretion to mandatory minimums.

Adherents of mandatory sentencing believe that it reduces crime, is fair for any criminals and ensures uniformity in sentencing. Potential criminals and repeat offenders are expected to avoid crime because they can be certain of their sentence if they are caught.

Yet opponents of mandatory sentencing point to studies that show criminals are deterred more effectively by increasing the chances of their conviction, rather than increasing the sentence if they are convicted.

Some proponents say that if we lock up criminals they won't be committing crime and therefore society will be safer. This is very naïve and simplistic.

First, there is no supportive relationship between mass incarceration and decreased crime rates. Supporters of mass incarceration tend to look at only one small period of time to support their views. If we use recent studies to determine the relationship between crime rates and incarceration we find an entirely different relationship.

So what is the answer? How do we deal with the hundreds of thousands of offenders who are unlikely to reoffend but are collectively costing states and taxpayers like you and I billions of dollars each year?

As stated earlier, there are a number of alternative sanctions for low level or first time offenders. These are both cost effective and have been shown to decrease recidivism rates as opposed to offenders who go through the prison system.
Consider the following facts:

• The prison population in the United States is growing at an alarming rate;

• Prisons and incarceration costs in the United States are costing the taxpayers over $65 billion dollars a year. Don’t we have a better way to spend that money?

• There is no direct correlation that by increasing the length of incarceration you get a corresponding decrease in the crime rate;

• There is no direct correlation that by increasing the number of convictions and the incarceration of low level criminals or first time offenders, you get a corresponding decrease in the crime rate;

• Currently prisons are set up in a punitive and castigatory system and not a rehabilitative system which will actually reduce recidivism;

• The personnel in the Bureau of Prisons system who oversees the inmate population lacks the training, education, skills, and expertise to effectively manage and control the current inmate population;

• Legislators must come to realize that the “law and order mentality and the hard on crime mentality” doesn’t necessarily mean that prisons should be 100% punitive and 0% rehabilitative. They have to get away from the “scare tactics” that they are currently using to maintain public office, get votes, and start facing the real facts.

Prison is a necessary evil. But there are many forms of punishment that can reduce the huge costs associated with incarceration—prison isn't our only option. It is time we start addressing those.

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Michael Frantz is a leading Federal Prison Consultant with Jail Time Consulting (JTC) in South Florida. The staff of JTC provides sentence reduction strategies, research, and many pre- and post-sentencing services for their clients. Michael has authored a bestselling book on federal prison titled, “Jail Time, What you need to know…Before you go to federal prison!” He has also authored over thirty-five JT Special Reports© on various federal prison issues affecting both the inmate and his/her family. They are available on the website. He writes a daily blog on the JTC website http://jailtimeconsulting.com answering readers’ questions and comments. He is a nationally recognized authority on federal prison and has published over 40 articles nationwide. He has been contacted by ABC’s 20/20, the Oprah Winfrey network, the Fox News Network, as well as many radio and TV stations nationwide. He can be reached at 954-522-2254, 800-804-4686, or at mike@jailtimeconsulting.com.
Source:Michael Frantz, Director of JailTime Consulting
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