Tuesday, February 5, 2008

the undead coyote

In December, New York’s Independent Budget Office reported that the city spent more than $250 million on its juvenile justice system in 2007. Three quarters of that money went to incarcerating young people in juvenile jails and prisons, where a 50-day stay costs New Yorkers about $30,000 per alleged juvenile delinquent.

In a glittering flash of bureaucratic genius, IBO analysts deduced that this may not be the best use of government funding.

The question is, will this realization be translated into any meaningful policy change? Study after study demonstrates that incarceration is far less effective at reducing crime than prevention programs that address the damage done by poverty & racism (see http://www.sentencingproject.org/Admin%5CDocuments%5Cpublications%5Cinc_iandc_complex.pdf), but the nation's prison fever continues to burn. Like some gargantuan, undead Wile E. Coyote, the American logic of incarceration takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin', impervious to data, reason, common consenses or anything so soft-hearted as faith in human potential.

Disorienting as it is to navigate the vast distances between data, logic and criminal justice policy, one has to do it in order to understand the scope of incarceration (or its consequent damage) in America.

So, a couple more numbers from Down the Rabbit Hole:

The cost of keeping an inmate in NYS prison for one year is $36,835. In comparison, the cost of most drug free outpatient care runs between $2,700-$4,500 per person per year; and the cost of residential drug treatment is $17,000-$21,000 per participant per year.

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