Mar 28, 2019

National Criminal Justice Month: The Economics of Successful Re-entry

Post by Freedom Partners

It’s Criminal Justice Month and we’re making the case for reforming our criminal justice system. We’ve highlighted plenty of reasons this month that the justice system is in need of major changes.

Pre-trial processes hurt indigent defendants and communities the hardest.

Overly harsh sentences are not effectively deterring crime.

If you’re a numbers and statistics person, there’s a fiscal argument to be made for reform as well.

Consider this:

  • The United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world – the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that, at the end of 2016, nearly 2.2 million people were in prison or jail.
  • The U.S. criminal justice system costs more than $250 billion a year to maintain.
  • Research shows that when you factor in the social costs of incarceration, the number skyrockets to $1.2 trillion.

The economic impact here is two-fold.

First, local, state and federal governments are spending billions of dollars on incarceration. That burden is on taxpayers, who are ultimately giving their money to inefficient, big-government programs.

The second impact is on growth and output. Taxpayers have less money to spend and millions of potential members of the workforce are behind bars.

The way to drive down these numbers — while still keeping communities safe — is through successful re-entry programs. These programs can equip formerly incarcerated individuals with the knowledge and skills they need to successfully re-join society, secure work and break out of the cycle of recidivism.

Planning for release should start on day one and include focusing on rehabilitation. That involves anything from education and job training to support systems and substance abuse programs during incarceration.

More than 75 percent of formerly incarcerated individuals are rearrested within five years of release, so it’s important to get re-entry plans right to avoid recidivism.

Texas is a perfect example, having moved toward a data-driven, rehabilitation-focused method of justice. In the last 10 years, Texas has:

  • Reduced crime rates to their lowest levels since the 1960s.
  • Closed eight prisons, in large part a result of lower recidivism rates.
  • Saved taxpayers $3 billion.

Successful re-entry and access to work are the keys to driving down recidivism rates, keeping our communities safe and saving ourselves a bundle of money. With lower recidivism rates, the taxpayer burden is smaller, law enforcement isn’t forced to go after the same people over and over, and governments aren’t throwing money at a failing system.

Read more about the need for criminal justice reform!