That could become a reality if the United States doesn't curb its addiction to long prison sentences, according to this excellent editorial from the Newport News, Virginia Daily Press. Anyone who cares about sentencing knows that America has too many prisons, but these numbers put the problem in a disturbing new light:
Not so long ago, the American landscape was dotted with working farms and thriving, humming factories. If we aren't careful, that landscape will soon become dotted with barbed wire and prisons.
In recent decades, the U.S. corrections industry has exploded into one of our strongest economic sectors. A 2010 report released by the Congressional Research Service revealed the industry employs about 770,000 workers, with the workforce expected to grow by as much as 16 percent by 2016, and that's even with slight declines in U.S. prison populations.
By way of perspective: The U.S. auto industry employs about 880,000 people.To bring down the number of prisoners, the editorial argues, we need more alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders:
In alternative and re-entry programs, these offenders develop better judgment, hone their life skills, become stronger parents and most importantly, grow a sense of pride and dignity that helps them succeed. Men and women who were once hopeless and marginalized are learning to become functioning, law-abiding and tax-paying citizens — while inspiring others to do the same.
And all of these benefits come at a far lower cost to the state. A day in prison costs about $79 per offender; depending on the program, a day in alternative sentencing costs from $14 to $55. A 2011 Justice Policy Center report revealed that for every dollar spent on community drug treatment, recidivism is reduced by 8.3 percent.
But there still aren't enough programs to serve all the offenders who could be eligible.Cost-effective alternatives to prison are not available, though, in cases when a mandatory minimum prison term is required. Those sentences apply to many nonviolent offenders who don't need prison time.
Getting rid of or scaling back mandatory minimums is the first step to make cheaper, more effective alternatives available as a sentencing option for judges.