Save Money And Reduce Crime By Treating Criminals Like Criminals
An editorial by Jordan B. Rickards, www.RickardsReview.com
The lead story of the March 3, 2011, edition of the Newark Star Ledger, citing the need for New Jersey to reform its prison system in light of the sixty percent recidivism rate for incarcerated criminals, missed the mark entirely. The focus of the article was the unchallenged solution, presented by the Manhattan Institute, to give criminals jobs so they have a legitimate source of income. While this makes for pleasant sounding theory, the practical effect is to reward bad behavior at the expense of the law abiding population.
Available jobs should go to those people who are most qualified: those of us who work hard, and stayed in school, and obey the law. This is especially so at a time such as this, when jobs are few and far between. A job should be a reward for following appropriate social mores, not a ransom payment to a criminal so he won’t reoffend.
A more just and effective way to reduce criminal activity is to address the root of the problem, which is that the cost to commit crimes is simply not high enough. Indeed, in New Jersey, we go out of our way to make sure that our criminals are not overly inconvenienced with the consequences of their actions. For example, with certain exceptions, a typical criminal convicted in New Jersey automatically gets two-thirds of his prison sentence knocked off by the parole guidelines before he even sets foot inside a prison.
That’s just the beginning. According to the New Jersey State Parole Board Handbook, the convict “earns” an additional 15 days off for every month of “above average” behavior (whatever that means), and 10 days off for every month of “average” behavior. Incredibly, he even earns 5 days off for every month of “below average” behavior! When other credits are factored in, the result is that a New Jersey convict only spends a small fraction of his sentence incarcerated. A five year sentence in New Jersey can be served in as little as one year and five days. A ten year sentence can be served in as little as one year, eleven months, and five days.
And that’s for criminals who actually go to jail. Under New Jersey law, a home burglary is nominally punishable by three to five years imprisonment. But the law provides a “presumption of non-incarceration” that compels courts to issue only a probationary sentence for first time offenders of third degree or lesser crimes. In addition to burglary, this includes aggravated assault causing “significant bodily injury,” terroristic threats, arson, thefts up to $75,000 (including a car), perjury, rioting, and criminal sexual contact, to name a few. All of these are essentially free crimes.
Put another way, the problem isn’t just that our prisons have revolving doors, it’s that our courts operate like a fisherman’s tag and release program. We catch ‘em, and we throw ‘em back. But if criminals were actually punished for their crimes and forced to serve their sentences, not only would there be fewer of them on the street committing crimes and influencing others to do so, those thinking about offending or reoffending would be faced with a substantially greater disincentive.
Of course, the counterargument is that putting more people in prison and keeping them longer would be cost-prohibitive. This is intellectually lazy. Though the out of pocket costs would rise initially, more money would likely be saved in the long run. After all, putting and keeping criminals in prison where they can’t reoffend reduces the need for costly public employees like police, prosecutors, public defenders, judges, probation officers, and all of their support staff. The need for these services is further lessened by the aforementioned deterrent effect that greater punishment would have on would-be criminals. And by making the criminal lifestyle less appealing, it would encourage more young people to stay in school and pursue gainful, meaningful employment. Such a benefit to our society and economy would be immeasurable. In short, the effect over time would likely be not only a reduction in monetary cost per criminal, but a reduction in the total number of criminals, and a widespread improvement in education and social mores.