The High Costs of Low Risk, and the news in criminal justice this week

“We are paying a fortune to keep people incarcerated who are very different from the people we sent away. It’s time for us to understand prisons are not nursing homes.”

According to analysis by the Osborne Association, New York taxpayers spend up to $240,000 annually to keep an aging prisoner behind bars. Older prisoners have the lowest recidivism rate of any age cohort, with only 4.2% returning to prison on new commitments. The report, The High Costs of Low Risk, recommends expanded use of parole and compassionate release, better training to recognize age-related issues like hearing loss and cognitive decline, and tailored discharge plans to help older returning citizens with reentry.

“Those are the better outcomes for everyone, not just the individual, but the community as well.”

Officials in Lucas County, Ohio announced new efforts to provide treatment for those with mental illness, rather than jail stays. An estimated 57% of people released from Lucas County jails have behavioral health needs, and 67% of those still in custody have received mental health services. Programs include the ongoing Opportunity Project, which identifies people in need of treatment before their initial court appearance, and increased funding for case managers and treatment providers.

“In 2017, the U.S. prison population dropped below 1.5 million people for the first time since 2004.”

A new report from the Vera Institute showed that the U.S. prison population fell by 19,400 in 2017, continuing an eight-year trend of similar declines. Between 2016 and 2017, Maryland and Louisiana saw the largest single year decreases in their prison populations in a decade. Both states passed Justice Reinvestment Initiatives that reduced sentences and reformed parole and probation policies.  Twenty states, including Tennessee, Utah and Kentucky saw increases in their prison population over the same time period.

“We decided we need to do something for the veterans in our facility and prepare them for a successful re-entry into society.”  

The newly-designated veterans cell block at Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County jail will provide specialized services including treatment for addiction and post-traumatic stress, as well as assistance with the Veterans Administration health care system. Officials said placing the veterans together would make specialized services more efficient, and increase safety at the jail.

“CEA finds evidence that certain individual programs can reduce crime as well as reduce spending by lowering long-run incarceration costs.”

The Council of Economic Advisers found that every $1 spent on mental health saved an estimated $1.47, and every $1 spent on substance abuse saved an estimated $5.27. Their analysis combined the costs of incarceration with the societal costs of crime, including pain and suffering, reduced quality of life, and lost economic opportunity. The authors were unable to properly evaluate the efficacy of prison education programs, but estimated that they would need to produce only a 2% reduction in recidivism to be cost-effective.