A recently released study from California-based Human Impact Partners is stirring things up in Wisconsin. As with so many that have come before it, the findings point toward a need to reduce reliance on incarceration, instead shifting the focus to treatment programs and community corrections. The study states that millions of dollars can be saved and recidivism rates reduced this way.
JS Online brings us the pertinent numbers. First is the number that is giving politicians sticker shock:
Investing in addiction and mental health treatment, instead of prison, for nonviolent offenders would likely lower crime, strengthen communities and save the state millions of dollars annually, according to a study released this week by a coalition pushing to expand Wisconsin’s drug courts and other alternatives-to-prison programs.
The health-impact assessment, by the California-based Human Impact Partners, recommends the state increase funding for its existing treatment alternative programs from about $1 million to $75 million annually, expand eligibility, and add $20 million for mental health treatment, jobs programs and other, related services.
Seventy-five times what is currently being spent, that is a number that can make one reel. Of course, like everything, context makes a difference. That investment can help prevent even scarier numbers, like the amount being spent on prisons for instance:
Wisconsin incarcerates more than 22,000 people a year, up from about 7,000 in 1990 and more than double the number imprisoned in Minnesota, according to the Department of Corrections. And it has another 67,000 ex-offenders on probation and parole. The corrections budget has ballooned since 1990 from under $200 million a year to $1.3 billion in 2011, now surpassing the money spent on the University of Wisconsin system.
Another thing to consider is that this issue does not exist in a vacuum. Adopting a rehabilitative path over incarceration also impacts numerous other aspects of the problem, driving down state expenditures for each. Scott Wales is a criminal defense attorney in Wisconsin who writes one heck of an informative blog. He recently weighed in with the following:
The Human Impact Partners study says that an investment of $75 million into treatment and alternative courts could cut annual prison admissions by about 40% and jail admissions by 21,000. It could also cut recidivism rates by 12-16% and cut crime by an estimated 20%.
It would make mental health treatment and drug and alcohol treatment available to thousands who need it, helping them to live a crime-free life. Perhaps most importantly, it would keep nonviolent offenders within the community, helping them to be productive members of society, working, and contributing. This, they say, would even reduce the number of children placed in foster care every year.
This has been the core of our message since the start. Our documentary is entitled It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing for a reason. As more and more data come in, especially from multi-year studies, it has become the unmistakeable conclusion.
The problem we face is that it involves up-front costs to get the ball truly rolling. No politician wants to be seen throwing funds at something new when budget cuts are so deep and vicious. The looming price of enacting these programs often occludes the fact that those costs are dwarfed by the saving reaped once they are in place.
Wales also notes that another antagonistic refrain heard when this approach comes up the it is “soft on crime.” His comment on this fallacy is accurate and succinct:
And the ‘soft on crime’ argument is played out. There is no evidence that being ‘tough’ (when it includes lengthy prison sentences) is any more effective than treatment. Actually, there is evidence to the contrary.
Come on folks, it really is vastly more expensive to do nothing.
- The Conservative War on Prisons (washingtonmonthly.com)
- Treatment is the best way to fight crime (jsonline.com)
- “More Children Growing Up With Parents Behind Bars” (sentencing.typepad.com)