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).
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.”
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.