Dear House of Representatives, It has recently been brought to my attention that many citizens of the United States have been greatly concerned about the criminal justice system. These citizens are concerned that funding for federal prisons is taking away from the funding of schools and education for their children. I am going to make a proposal that will hopefully give you a few ideas on cutting prison funding to make way for the funding of schools. A major concern these citizens have is the overcrowding of prisons. The overcrowding of prisons is requiring that new prisons be built. The cost of building prisons is expensive and the citizens feel that upper education for their children is more important than the comfort of prisoners.
To solve this problem I propose we set a law to delay payment of debts on new prison construction. I suggest we cut nonviolent prisoner population in half over the next five years. This delay on new prison construction must be implemented immediately until states can determine which prisoners might be better served by a non prison sanction. If the current prison build-up continues, officials will never have the opportunity to utilize their resources more effectively. Instead, they will continue to fill these new prisons with nonviolent offenders.
Corrections officials have stated that 50% of their entire prison populations could be released into programs such as intensive supervision and drug treatment. Reducing nonviolent prisoner populations by 50% is a more conservative step toward evaluating the effectiveness of such a proposal. 1 The millions of dollars saved by the diversion of appropriate inmates could be used partially to establish a range of intermediate community options of such offenders and to offset taxpayer costs for other needed state services, such as higher education. 2 Another thing that can be done to help this funding is realloc at the prison construction funding from the 1994 Crime Act as seed funding for community corrections. The majority of offenders imprisoned today are nonviolent offenders and the percentage of state prisoners serving a drug sentence more than tripled over the last decade. Nationally, the criminal justice system easily has enough prisons to house all violent offenders.
3 With over one-third of the $30 billion Crime Act allocated toward prison building, more and more low-level nonviolent offenders will be housed in these new prisons at an extraordinary cost to the taxpayers. Ten billion dollars in federal prison construction will mean that over the next 30 years, $160 billion in state general fund dollars will go to prison operations instead of higher education. 4 Instead of unnecessarily building more costly prisons, Crime Bill funds should be reallocated to create a comprehensive and cost-beneficial range of no-nonsense community corrections programs including supervised probation, daily reporting, house arrest, drug treatment, and progressively steeper fines. 5 Instead of having these Community Correction Acts, they should be initiated widespread. In most states, when a county judge sentences a person to probation and a community-based treatment program, the county pays the entire bill for the supervision and treatment of that offender. 6 When a judge sentences a defendant to prison, however, the state picks up the whole tab.
Too frequently, counties have no option but to send low-level, nonviolent offenders to state prison due to lack of funds to treat them in their own community. In Minnesota and 14 other states across the country, they ve tackled this system with a community Correctoins Act. The state pays counties a percentage of what it would be otherwise cost to send that petty thief to prison to retain him in a local, community-based prison. 7 Minneapolis judges still have the option of sending those offenders to prison.
However, if they feel that a drug treatment program with intensive supervision is more appropriate, their county gets state funds to purchase such services and the state gets to keep the rest of what it would have to cost to imprison that offender. 8 We should also require a fiscal impact statement before implementing major crime policies. The criminal justice spending must be cost-effective so it does not drain resources from other vital programs like higher education. Unfortunately, over the last fifteen years, the massive expansion of the criminal justice system has come at the expense of higher education, and other programs.
9 To ensure a better balance in criminal justice spending, a fiscal impact statement must accompany all proposed changes in crime policy. This statement should be similar to a business plan it should state how much the initiative will cost, how it will be paid for, and its expected rate of return. Policy makers need to consider the entire budget when implementing crime policy because a state that builds a new prison has less money to spend on education programs. The entire system must be evaluated when implementing costly crime policies.
10 Most importantly I think we need to invest in the future of children, families, and communities. We must not lose sight of the fact that our children, our families, and our communities are the essence of America. Unfortunately, current criminal justice policies are detracting from our investments in the youth of America. As more prisons are built to house low-level nonviolent offenders, more children are denied access to higher education, unable to afford outrageous tuition costs. As state corrections budgets increase, investments in higher education decrease.
Current corrections policies are draining the lifeblood from America s youth. We need an immediate shift in priorities from funding prisons to funding higher education.