A pair of new studies from the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) conclude that states can cut prison costs and improve long-term economic productivity by investing in addiction treatment for offenders and improving parole and probation practices.
“There’s no magic formula for saving money and protecting public safety,” said Tracy Velázquez, executive director of JPI. “Rather, policymakers can use the tools we already have and reduce correctional populations through incremental changes based on existing, evidence-based strategies.”
States spend about $5.7 billion annually incarcerating (mostly nonviolent) youth offenders, but most could be safety managed in alternative community settings that would also reduce recidivism by up to 22 percent, according to the JPI report, The Costs of Confinement: Why Good Juvenile Justice Policies Make Good Fiscal Sense.
Investing in alternatives to incarcerating youth can yield up to $13 in benefits for every dollar spent, the study found.
A second report, Pruning Prisons: How Cutting Corrections Can Save Money and Protect Public Safety, finds that investing in addiction treatment for adult offenders could save states $18 for every dollar they spend. Other reform steps recommended by JPI include shifting 10 percent of the prison population into the parole system and adjusting parole support and services so fewer offenders return to prison for parole violations.
JPI’s recommendations included:
- States and the federal government should reexamine policies that drive increases in incarceration, such as recommitment for technical violations of parole conditions, and incarceration for low-level drug offenses and many nonviolent offenses. Non-incarcerative, community-based alternatives should be explored.
- States and the federal government should implement policies that can safely increase releases from prison through parole and other community-based programs.
- As closing prisons realizes the largest financial savings, policymakers should scale their reforms to enable the closure of a facility or, at a minimum, a wing or other discrete portion of a facility.
- To achieve long-term public safety gains, money saved on incarceration should be invested in community-based services that improve both public safety and the life outcomes of individuals, and in social institutions that build strong communities, including education, employment training, housing, and treatment.
- Incentivize counties to send fewer youth to residential care facilities by shifting the fiscal architecture of the state juvenile justice system to reward increased utilization of community-based options.
- Invest in intermediate interventions, not secure facilities that don’t improve public safety and interfere with youth development and the chances of future success.
- Invest in proven approaches to reduce crime and recidivism among young people.
- Fund evaluations of effective programs and policies in juvenile justice, and support the development of new and different approaches to reduce delinquency and recidivism among young people.