|As Gulliver Slept
The present cost of the justice system is almost one-half of the entire Defense Budget of the United States, and instead of investing in programs proven to reduce the recidivism rate of released prisoners we continue seeking vengeance against these incarcerated citizens, egged on by popular victim rights groups and politicians seeking a popular platform to run for re-election.
|One in every thirty-two Americans are in prison, in jail,
on probation or on parole. ( See, Probation and Parole in the United States,
2001, NCJ 195669, August 2002, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice
Programs, reporting 6,592,800 citizens under direct control of either Federal,
State or local police agencies.) In 1999, that number was 6,340,800
and the total cost of the entire judicial system was $147 billion dollars.
(See, Justice Expenditure and Employment in the United States, 1999, NCJ
191746, February 2002, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs,
Bureau of Justice Statistics.) The total amount of money spent for
all Corrections functions, including parole and probation supervision,
in 1999 was $54 billion. (See, Table 2, p. 3, NCJ 191746. Dividing
the total number of citizens under direct supervision of the police by
the cost, each person on parole, probation, in jail or prison costs $8,516.00
per year to keep under that control.
Remarkably, if you attribute the entire cost of the judicial system and police protection to the criminal element, the figure of $22,292.00 per year, per citizen under direct supervision, as is generally given by the government when discussing how much "prisoners' cost society, is the figure arrived at when analyzing cost from these reports. Yet only 5% of all litigation and court actions in this nation are criminal in nature. 95% of all litigation is civil suits. Thus, only $2 billion dollars of the $35.5 billions dollars used to run the court system is spent on criminal cases and litigation. This would add another $315 to the yearly cost of the six million plus supervised citizens, for a total of $8,831.00 per year.
Of course there is another consideration. The State run mental health institutions in large part have ceased to exist. Of the approximately 6.5 million persons under supervision, 280,000 are severely mentally ill and would previously have been institutionalized in the now defunct State Mental Institution system. (See, "Deinstitutionalization," by Rodger Doyle, Scientific American, December 2002, p. 38.) Incarceratiing the severely mentally ill in prisons and jails costs over $2.5 billion dollars a year. Another 400,000 mentally ill are kept in nursing homes. (See, "Deinstitutionalization").
The cost incurred by society, since the late 1970's, to supervise or incarcerate, has been spent on warehousing prisoners for longer and longer periods of incarceration and supervision due to the "get tough on crime" increases in sentences and the length of supervised release. This was despite the recognition by leading researchers on criminal behavior showing that longer punishment is not effective in reducing recidivism rates, and may actually increase crime rates, as stated by James McGuire of the University of Liverpool in England. ( See, "Reducing Crime," Scientific American, May 2003, p. 33A. ) The elimination of rehabilitation programs in the late 1970's and 1980's is now being rethought in light of meta-analyses of nearly 2,000 studies showing the effect of rehabilitation programs can reduce recidivism rates by one-half. ( See, "Reducing Crime.")
The major problems now faced by prison administrators in switching the goals of incarceration from warehousing back to rehabilitation are multi-level.
First, middle-aged voters were educated by the press and the government in the late 1970's and 1980's to believe that rehabilitation of prisoners is a waste of time and money. Senior lawmakers are the same people who voted in the late 1970's and 1980's to do away with rehabilitation programs in prisons. The mainstream media, in the late 1970's and 1980's, enhanced ratings and sold newspapers by trashing "liberal" politicians who opposed doing away with the rehabilitation programs in the prisons of this nation. Even today the media concentrates on reporting crimes committed by released prisoners, even though released prisoners are responsible for only 4.7% of all crimes committed in the United States. (See, Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 1994, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, NCJ 193427, June 2002, table 5, p. 5.) By nightly reporting on new crimes committed by released prisoners, the media gives the general public a distorted perception of the fact that released prisoners only account for 4.7% of the crime in this nation, doing a disservice to their reader and viewers, in my opinion.
All of this combined creates a formidable barrier to lawmakers who know that recent studies show rehabilitation works and is capable of reducing that 4.7% number to 2.35%, a reduction in real numbers which, according to NCJ 193427, would have amounted to 70,000 less crimes in thirteen States over a three-year period of time, out of 2,994,868 total crimes committed in those 13 States during that same time. (See, NCJ 193427, table 5, p. 5 and text). In these times of tight State budgets, let any lawmaker introduce legislation spending money on programs for prisoners, and he or she is instantly front-page news, and not with the type of headline conducive to re-election.
Second, senior corrections officials, Directors, Regional directors and Wardens also were weaned on the faulty studies of the late 1970's and 1980's which erroneously, statistics now show, held that rehabilitation programs are a waste of time and money. Many older staff were pushed out of now discontinued rehabilitations programs and forced to take jobs in security or administration. Many were forced to uproot their families and take lessor paying jobs at new prisons. Worse yet, psychologists and social workers running those programs were forced into State Social Service programs and left the prison system altogether. There is a dearth of qualified prison personnel available to run new rehabilitation programs. Money to hire such qualified professionals would be substantial, and due to budget cuts now prevalent in all State prisons due to State shortfalls in tax revenue, such programs are seen with a jaundiced eye, especially when weighed against prison closings and Guard Union complaints of lay-offs and reduction of security staff. There is considerable political pressure to ignore the findings of the new studies from Guard Unions. When it comes to firing guards, or rehabilitating prisoners, especially in these times of high unemployment rates, the prisoner inevitably loses.
Lastly, content with the high ratings stories of release prisoners who commit new crimes create in the local and national media, that same media has failed to educate the public on the new studies showing rehabilitation programs can reduce the recidivism rate of released prisoners by one-half. An uninformed public is unwilling to set aside the prejudices against prisoners and rehabilitation programs it formed two decades ago, and secure in their ignorance, is willing to condemn any politician foolish enough to give his opponent a front-page story telling the voters he is soft on criminals.
So as Gulliver sleeps, new criminals are born, grow up, commit crimes and go to prison, while old criminals leave prison without any more skills allowing them to become productive members of society than they had when they were arrested. Overall, 67.5% of released prisoners are rearrested for a new offense, almost exclusively a felony or serious misdemeanor, within three years of being released from prison, 46.9% are re-convicted for a new crime, and 51.8% are back in prison on either a new crime, or a technical parole violation. (See, NCJ 193427, June 2002, "Highlights," p. 1). The prison population grew on the average of 3.6% per year between 1995 and 2001. (See, NCJ 195669, August 2002, p. 1, insert).
From 1982 until 1999 the total cost of the justice system increased from $36 billion dollars to $147 billion dollars, per year, or 308.9%, at a yearly average rate of increase of 8.1%. Yet the cost of corrections jumped 654.2% Federal, 476.1% State, and 401.4% local, for the same years, far out-pacing the average cost increase of the entire justice system. (See, NCJ 191746, Fedruary 2002, Tables 1 & 2, pp. 2-3). It will get even worse as the prisoners serving out the long sentences given to them over the past 20 years begin to age and their medical care costs rise accordingly.
The present cost of the justice system is almost one-half of the entire Defense Budget of the United States, and instead of investing in programs proven to reduce the recidivism rate of released prisoners, or reducing sentences, imposed during a time when it was believed longer sentences would deter crime, to reasonable amounts of time, we continue seeking vengeance against these incarcerated citizens, egged on by popular victim rights groups and politicians seeking a popular platform to run for re-election upon. The need for equal justice for equal crimes, in relation to the protection of society, which is first and foremost the purpose of the Rule of Law, is why victims and their families are not allowed to sit on juries or act as prosecutors or judges. Why should a victim be allowed to determine when a prisoner's debt to society has been paid? This is why the State prosecutes a defendant in the name of society. It is why violations of the law are not considered crimes against an individual, but against society itself, and prosecuted as such.
I was in the law library this evening. A young man was there. He has done 10 years in prison for a robbery. He was sentenced to 10 to 25 years by the trial court judge. He saw the parole board and they, after reviewing his crime and his conduct in prison, granted him a parole last month. Two days ago he received a letter from the parole board telling him that his parole had been rescinded. Even though these professional career corrections officials felt he had paid his debt to society, the victim of his crime had contacted a victim's right group who contacted the parole board complaining about him being granted a parole and threatening to go to the media. He was given another five year continuation of his sentence because of that phone call. He was bitter and angry. He had to call his children and tell them he would not be coming home as he had promised them he was.
But you, the public, will never hear about his, or have a say in it, because all of it is done behind closed doors and in secret. Gulliver sleeps, while one in thirty-two becomes one in thirty-one, or one in thirty. Gulliver sleeps as $36 billion dollars becomes $147 billion dollars. Gulliver sleeps as a crime worth a ten year sentence, becomes worth twenty years.
This year over 600,000 prisoners will be released into society after serving their sentences, as was recently reported in U.S.A. Today. Those over 40 years of age have a significantly lower rate of recidivism for new crimes, yet are returned to prison at about the same rate as other age groups due to a significantly higher rate of "technical" parole violations, such as not holding a job, missing a meeting with a parole officer, establishing a bank account without approval of the parole officer, or obtaining a driver's license or driving without prior approval of the parole officer. (See, NCJ 193427, June 2002, Table 8, p. 7). Even though all studies show that prisoners over the age of 40 return to prison for new crimes only 18.3% of the time,"Three-Strike Laws," Repeat Violent Offender specifications added to charges, and prosecutors exercising their "discretion" when charging repeat offenders to charge multiple crimes for a single offense, routinely sentence both men and women to sentences which will keep them incarcerated until the ages of 60, 70 or 80 years old before they can even be considered for parole or release. This takes up valuable prison cells for younger serious offenders who have a much more likely chance of committing a new crime if released too soon and results in both the 3.6% yearly increase in the prison population and the perceived need for more prisons. If laws were passed allowing all prisoners over the age of 40 or 50 to be considered for release back into society, regardless of their sentence, a safety valve would exist to allow older model prisoners to return to society when prison overcrowding becomes an issue, reducing the need for new prisons, and reducing the steady growth in prison population. Gulliver sleeps, and as he sleeps, thousands of arrows costing $8,831.00 a year are recycled to be used again, carrying the ropes of debt contributing to the $7.4 trillion dollar deficit society's children, and their children's children, will have to bear. Prisons like older prisoners. They are seldom troublemakers, and they have a calming affect on the younger and wilder prisoners.
The 600,000 prisoners to be released this year have the same coping skills, the same education level, the same mental health problems and even less in the way of friends, family and support structure, as they had when they committed their crimes in the first place. If they were not divorced before they entered prison, they are now. The average time between incarceration and divorce is around 18 months. On top of their previous problems, they are now required to pay child support, court costs, supervision fees to parole officers, and the cost of any programs they are required to attend as a condition of their parole or probation. Couple this with the general attitude of the public, and employers, towards released prisoners, and you have created a perfect formula for failure. Gulliver sleeps.
A hundred years ago a man could commit a crime, do this time in prison, get on his horse and ride 100 miles and start a new life without anyone knowing he was an ex-felon. In today's world, he can't travel 10,000 miles and get away from his past. It follows forever and he, or she, is looked upon as a second-rate human being the rest of their life. In today's world, if a man builds a thousand bridges he is know as a great engineer and bridge builder. But if he builds a thousand bridges and sucks one cock, he is known as a cocksucker. Such is our "forgiving" Judea-Christian society. One man, the subject of two articles recently in U.S.A. Today, was released from prison and then ran out of New Jersey, Ohio, Kentucky, and is in the process of being ran ot of Alberqerque, New Mexico. His fine Christian neighbors have beat him up, burned down his house and passed laws designed to prevent him from living or working in their cities. Granted, he was convicted of a sex offense. But does he pose a real danger to his neighbors and the cities where he tried to live? According to NCJ 193427 there is only a 2.5% chance that he will commit another sex offense. (See, Table 10, p. 9; See, "Why Megan's Laws Are Unconstitutional"). That is the second lowest rate of recidivism of all released prisoners, although ostracize from society and treated like an outlaw, the odds of his committing a new crime of some type must increase daily as his frustration grows. Of 3,138 released rapists, more were rearrested for nonsexual assault (8.7%), or for theft (6.2%), than were arrested for another rape (2.5%). (See, NCJ 193427, Table 10, p. 9 & text.) A released robber has a 13.4% chance of committing another robbery. A person convicted of assault has a 22% chance of committing another assault. A convicted burglar has a 23.4% chance of committing another burglary. A drug offender has a 41.2% chance of being convicted of another drug offense. (NCJ 193427, Table 10, p. 9.) All released prisoners account, as stated above, for only 4.7% of the total crimes committed in the United States. Perhaps we should be more worried about our neighbors, relatives, friends and acquaintances, since 54% off all violent crimes, 66% of all rapes and sexual assaults, 29% of all robberies, 48% of all aggravated assaults and 59% of all simple assaults are committed by non-strangers . . . meaning by our relatives, friends and acquaintances, as reported by the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. (See, NCJ 194610, Criminal Victimization, 2001, September 2002, Table 4, p. 8.)
One in thirty-two citizens are in the direct control of the police in this nation. That's 3.1% of the entire population of the United States. In 1995, 2.7% of the population was under police control. That is a 14.8% increase in the six years between the end of 1995 and the end of 2001, when the statistics were complied. (NCJ 195669, p. 2, text.) It is also an increase from about one in thirty-nine adults under police supervision in 1995, to on in thirty-two adults under police supervision in 2001. There were 5,342,900 adults under supervision in 1995, compared with 6,592,800 in 2001. (NCJ 195669, p. 1.)
At the present rate of growth, by the year 2050, half the population of the United States will be in prison, jail, on probation or parole, and the other half will be employed guarding and supervising them.
The cause of all of this seems to be an unwarranted hype by politicians and the media about the true incidence of crime in the United States, and the true chances of a citizen being a victim of crime, compared with the history of our nation. In 1973, including all violent crimes, property crimes and personal thefts, there were 44,000,000 victimizations. In 2001, there were 24,200,000 victimizations for these same categories of crime . . . the lowest number recorded since the National Crime Victimization Survey was initiated in 1973. (See, NCJ 194610, September 2002, p. 1.)
The odds of being a victim:
At age 12-15, .0551.
The odds of being raped are .001.
Yet watch the evening news, or attend a fund raiser for a politician, and you'll be lucky if you find the courage to leave your house for the next two days.
Enough statistics for now. Consider vengeance sentences and their affect on both rehabilitation and the prison system itself. Time to wake up Gulliver.
We cannot remove all chance from life, just as we cannot remove all crime from society. Yet as the odds of being a victim have declined, the instant communications capability of the news media has increased exponentially, bringing even remote crimes into our living rooms in full color. Politicians, greased by lobbyists representing organized health care, insurance companies, corporations involved in processing natural resources, local political and financial powers wanting government funding for various pet projects (also called "Pork"), do not want to discuss topics like health care, the cost of prescriptions for the elderly, the environment or the deterioration of our education infrastructure in primary and secondary schools. But crime, now there is a topic that will always draw a standing ovation. After all, it's on the news every night, and on the front page of the newspaper everyday. So it must be pervasive and a problem that needs addressed.
What crime has done is replace the Soviet Union as a threat, and a topic, for a safe political dialogue. Did you ever notice that as long as you have been alive the government has moved from one alleged dire threat to our nation to another? They never say, "Gee, you know, there are some problems in the world, but overall we are in better shape than we were 40 years ago. So everyone relax and we'll see if we can work on the few minor problems that are left here at home. We have crime down as low as it has been since we started keeping numbers. Let's see if we can give the prisoners we have some guidance, work skills and education, and reduce the number we need to keep in prison, thereby reducing this $147 billion dollar a year expense. Then we can use that money to build schools and help the elderly pay for their medication. Since older prisoners seldom commit new crimes, let's review each one and see if we can let them out so they can return to being productive members of society, instead of a drain on it."
Of course most of the problems lies with you.
You think the law is a personal tool of your vengeance against those who have committed crimes against either you personally, someone you love and care about, or against other people you don't even know, because you fear what happened to them may happen to you. You don't understand the law is solely for the protection of order in society, and that for the law to work, a citizen who violates the law, whether it is a murder or jaywalking, should be given the same punishment as any other citizen who breaks the same law. You don't understand that 98% of all prisoners are going to be released someday. You don't understand that when you go to a victim's right group to pressure a parole board to keep a prisoner longer, he's seeing other men who committed the same crime against someone else, who is maybe a more forgiving person than you are and who did not oppose a parole after the average time for the crime was served, leaving and going home to their families and children, while he sits here serving your vengeance time.
When personal vengeance and pressure from victim rights groups increase the time a prisoner spends in prison beyond the national average served by other prisoners for the same crime, the concept of "equal justice" is undermined. Personal vengeance has the same affect as vigilantism. The law considers crimes as crimes against society to remove the victim from the punishment for the same reasons it does not condone revenge killings, lynching or citizens taking the law into their own hands. Again, this is why victims, their family and friends, are not allowed to serve on juries, or as the judge or prosecutor at the trial of the perpetrator. When a defendant is sentenced to 8 to 25 years, the judge, the prosecutor, defense counsel and the defendant, all know, that in 5½ years he will see the parole board, and maybe be released then, or maybe receive an outdate of one or two years later. By the time the defendant gets to trial, or goes to enter a plea, they know about good time and about the average time society requires to be served for the crime committed. Many of them only plead guilty because of the knowledge that they will not be forced, or expected, to do the full 25 year maximum sentence, but only the minimum sentence, minus good time credits. In fact, in many cases, this is the only way the prosecutor can get a guilty plea and avoid costing society the expense of a full jury trial.
Understand that this "unspoken" agreement, that the defendant will not be imprisoned for the maximum possible sentence, is an intrical part of the plea bargain process. Understand also that if defendants become aware that this unspoken agreement is being broken, then no one will enter a plea bargain and every case will go to a jury trial, resulting in a complete breakdown of the entire judicial system because there are not enough judges, courtrooms, prosecutors or jurors available to give a jury trial within the requirements of the 6th Amendment's right to a Fast and Speedy Trial to the 14,031,070 citizens arrested by law enforcement each year in this natioin. (See, Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics, 2000, Table 4.1, p.352. Showing 14,031,070 arrests for non-traffic violations in the United States in 1999.) Further, this early release is predicated on the defendant behaving while in prison, staying out of trouble, and working at a prison job. If the prisoner is going to spend the entire maximum sentence in prison, he or she has no incentive whatsoever to do any of those things.
93% of all criminal defendants enter a plea of guilty. Every prisoner is required to have a prison job, and in truth, prisoners run the prisons, regardless of what the government likes to think.
If every criminal defendant refused to enter a guilty plea because he knows some victim's rights group will call and stop his parole, and if every prisoner, knowing no early release was possible, sat down on their prison bunk and told the guards to clean the shower if they wanted it cleaned, or sweep the hallway, or cook the meals, the entire prison and court system would collapse in 18 months. Trust me, rehabilitation is cheaper than vengeance.
But you don't know all that. Gulliver Sleeps.
So the next time you see a victim's right group crooning on the local news about how they stopped so and so's parole release, the next time hear about a prisoner being paroled and over hear some self-righteous, holier-than-thou citizen deciding to write the Governor, or the parole board to complain about the release, think about the alternatives possible if the prisoners decide they have no reason to plead guilty, or have no reason to make license plates, or have no reason to be rehabilitated. They still get out.
Gulliver needs to wake-up and smell the roses, because when you inject victim's desire for vengeance into the decisions affecting the right to equal justice under the law for all citizens, then you might just be opening Pandora's Box. There are over six million of us in your prisons, jails, on parole or on probation, plus over 30 million ex-convicts now free and living in society. That's 24 times the size of the United States Army. Maybe we need to start a movement to regain our right to vote in this nation, like the ex-convicts in Canada just won this year. This nation could use an additional 36 million votes for Democrats in the next Presidential Election, don't you think? Jeb Bush and Florida wouldn't mean much then, and the U.S. Supreme Court wouldn't get another chance to pick our President.
Most of your ancestors were ex-cons, religious outcasts and the "scum" of Europe. Today's ex-cons are getting tired of being treated like second-class citizens, denied the right to vote, or even to hold decent jobs for their families. Gulliver better wake up.
I wonder what today's victim's rights groups would have recommended to the Senate concerning the case of another notorious prisoner, and danger to society? His name was the Apostle Paul.
Until next time this is Jim Love reporting from the Front Line.
James Love. All Rights Reserved.
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