A cost-effective solution? - Tucson Local Media: Voices

A cost-effective solution?

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Posted: Tuesday, April 21, 2009 11:00 pm

While most things have always had some connection to money, today's focus on the dollar is more intense than it has been in decades. With this thought in mind, take a look at the following options and then decide which one appears to be the most cost-effective and placid. In other words, pick the one that would be the most acceptable for you.

Option A — Your days are spent in an 8-by-10 space; Option B — Your days are spent in a 6-by-8 space.

Option A — You can eat free every day; Option B — You can eat one meal at your expense.

Option A — Behave yourself and you can go home early; Option B — Work hard and efficiently and get more work.

Option A — Your hoem is gated with free security service; Option B — You are monitored closely at all times.

Option A — You get paid to watch TV and play video games; Option B — You don't have a TV and can't play games.

Option A — You have a private washroom at your disposal; Option B — You stand in line for a public washroom.

Option A — Your family and friends are encouraged to visit; Option B — You can't even make personal phone calls.

Option A — All of your amenities are provided at no cost to you; Option B — You pay for everything you have.

Option A — Spend day looking outside and want to be there; Option B — Spend day looking outside and want to be there.

OK, it's time for you to decide. Which option do you choose: A or B? It's a tough call, but the greatest number of people select option A. There are similarities, but as you'll see, the bottom-line difference is significant.

Option A is the life of a typical inmate. Not too shabby, huh? They're allowed to participate in many typical, everyday activities at taxpayer expense as a reward for breaking the law, being convicted, and getting sent to prison.

Option B is a typical office worker in today's functionally enhanced workplace. They received less of everything than an average inmate, and much of it is paid for from their own earned income. As an added bonus, these people have the privilege of paying for amenities (e.g., meals) the inmates receive for free. Actually, inmate amenities aren't free; taxpayers are picking up the tab for them.

It's been said that crime doesn't pay, but from a strictly financial standpoint it sure doesn't cost as much as holding down a steady job and making household ends meet. Maybe it's once again time to take a hard look at the way hard time is served and being funded.

Let me ask you a question. Are you aware that 1 in 31 adults in this country is: 1) locked up (behind bars), 2) on probation, or 3) on parole? We have the highest incarceration rate in history and we simply can't afford to pay the bill any longer. Many states are looking at their current laws in search of ways to reduce the numbers of inmates. That "Three strikes and you're out" mindset regardless of the crime committed is likely to be scrapped for something more sensible and cost-effective given the long-term economic outlook and inequities in sentencing from state to state.

Many nonviolent offenders are sitting in jail, and there has to be a better way of handling them, and a plan by a Kansas judge named Steven Alm is proving worthwhile. He's no longer automatically sentencing people for small violations such as missing a single probation appointment. He evaluates their court appearance demeanor and explanation regarding the violation and may give them a stern warning, sentence them to a night in jail or maybe even a week, but not another prolonged sentence that clogs the system and cost taxpayers millions for minor human oversights. And his plan is working as confirmed by a four-year independent study indicating 80 percent fewer repeat violations. But the most substantive improvement is shown in the 50 percent reduction in crimes committed by former inmates. Interesting what can happen when someone takes the time to assess a problem and formulate a plan using common sense and logic.

All state legislators and Congressional representatives should take a cue from this judge. In the meantime, it'll be business as usual in most courtrooms across the country while the taxpayers continue picking up the tab and private companies reap the financial benefits. Even though the crime itself may not pay, the systemic costs of maintaining the current functions sure do.

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