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Cost and benefit sentencing

One of the huge problems with our criminal justice system now is that sentencing has very little connection to actual benefit to society (particularly with the drug war thrown in).

SentenceSpeak discusses an interesting sentencing factor in Missouri:

It is the first state to provide judges with defendant-specific data on what particular sentences would cost the taxpayers, and on the likelihood that the person in the dock will reoffend.

Experts say Missouri is the only state to distribute an invoice on a case-by-case basis. …

“We’re seeing a trend where judges are asking for more evidence about best practices,” said Greg Hurley, of the National Center for State Courts. “They are looking at an offender’s track record and other predictive data that may show which treatments or programs may work best to cut down on recidivism.”

Stowe asks:

Could this become a new trend in sentencing? Granted, the cost of a sentence shouldn’t be the only factor judges consider, but judges should go into sentencing armed with information that allows them to do a reasoned cost-benefit analysis. That way, judges can help taxpayers spend less on people who don’t need expensive prison terms, and spend more on prison sentences for people who are dangerous or highly likely to reoffend.

I like this, but I think, as a society, we should attempt to go even a step further.

Most of the choices regarding the use of sentencing dollars actually occur before it gets to the judge’s often limited sentencing options. The real abuses of sentencing and lack of attention to cost tend to occur at the level of prosecution (not only in the decision of what sentencing to push for, but also in the discretion of what cases should be prosecuted).

I’ve often dreamed of a day where a District Attorney would have to face the public and defend his or her use of “prison years”:

This year, we reduced the number of prison years sentenced by 6%, saving the taxpayers money, while focusing on the most dangerous criminals. 93% of all prison years went to those convicted of violent crimes, and we reduced the anticipated prison years for those over 50 years old (which are more expensive and less beneficial) by 4%. Our office is committed to providing justice and contributing to public safety in a cost-defensible manner, unlike the past where it was like a contest to get the most sentencing, regardless of cost or value to society.

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7 comments to Cost and benefit sentencing

  • kind of reminds me of THX-1138

  • Kant

    I don’t think forcing the DA to talk about prison years would really have much of any affect. I mean how is it different than when a DA brags about making X amount of convictions? And as a corollary to that, how police brag about making X amount of arrests.

    I could very easily see a DA putting out a press releasing saying “We increased the number of prison years by 6%. Look at what a good job we’re doing keeping criminals off the street and our kids safe!”

    And couldn’t that even exacerbate the problem? Maximum security prisons are more expensive than their minimum security sardine can counterparts. If they skewed the arrest rate even further towards non-violent criminals then I could definitely see a DA saying “Not only have we increased the number of prison years keeping our kids safe, but we we’re doing it at a lower dollar to prison year ratio! Further saving the tax payers money!”

  • dystopia

    Massive prison populations are the signs of failed societies.

  • kaptinemo

    “kind of reminds me of THX-1138”

    Yeah, with the robot cops telling ol’ THX as he’s escaping that the budget overruns have reached critical level, and that’s his last chance to come back and be killed like a good little drone.

    Insane, yes, but so’s the DrugWar…killing you to save you.

    On a more serious level, it may not be as formalized as that, but something very similar to the MO schema will have to be implemented on a State by State level, as budget cuts deepen and the reality of not being able to maintain the bloated budgets for ‘anti-drugs’ operations, the conveyor of prison filling, becomes a political football.

  • darkcycle

    Might work, if sentancing weren’t a political football. Kicked back and forth by politicians who have nothing to lose by pushing for more and more draconian prison terms in an effort to appear ‘tough on crime’.
    Lets be clear here, benefit to society has little to do with sentancing laws. Rehabilitation has nothing to do with them at all. Since the ’70’s, the rehabilitation model has been dropped everywhere in this country. Officials have gutted prison education programs, in fact, programs of all types aimed at rehabilitating prisoners. When people say these prisons have become gladiator acadamies, they mean it. Minimal opportunities inside, and exclusion from the job market outside (due to a criminal record) insures that the released prisoner remains jobless and homeless, or has to criminal means in order to survive. It is a carefully crafted system designed to insure the presence of a permanant underclass, and a burgeoning prison population well into the future.
    When I was actually working as head shrinker, one of my contracts was to provide psychological testing at a local jail. I saw this firsthand.

  • Duncan20903

    Somebody’s in fantasy land where the government does things that make sense. Certainly not the USA, planet Earth of this current reality.

  • Duncan20903

    You can still make a good living with felony convictions. There was only one guy who would hire me after I got mine but it turns out that he pays pretty darn well, let’s me do whatever I want on the job, contributes generously to my retirement funding and actually managed to somehow hornswaggle Blue Cross into giving me and my wife a gold plated health insurance policy. I certainly lucked out that he would hire me. Oh yes, I should mention that I’m self employed. My motto is ‘necessity is a mother fucker.’