Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Georgia on my mind

One in thirteen people behind bars, on probation or on parole.
One in seventy people behind bars.
One billion dollars spent every year to lock up offenders.

Are we talking about Texas, China or some Third World country? No. We're talking about Georgia.
“When you have in Georgia 1 in every 70 adults [incarcerated] and 1 in every 13 is in some form of correctional control, that’s big government with a big big G." -- Mark Early, Prison Fellowship
While the national trend is a reduction in jail population, Georgia has bucked that trend and locked more people up. In 2007, Texas saw the light and decided that rather than increasing the amount spent on jails that finding alternative means of sentencing and treatment made more sense. Between 2008 and 2009 the Lone Star State saw a decline of .07% in its prison population while Georgia saw an increase of 1.6%. Over the same period, the numbers of inmates nationwide increased .01%.

Georgia's lock 'em up attitude costs the state $61,000 a year per inmate with an average incarceration period of 3.4 years.
“We have proven that we can be tough on crime and that we can spend $1.2 billion a year doing it. But I think it might be time to transition to being smart on crime.” -- Georgia prison chief Brian Owens.
These numbers don't even reflect the entire picture of the costs of incarceration. How much more does it cost the state to support a family when the breadwinner is locked up for over three years? What about decreased productivity since a good many felons can't get a job after doing their time? How much does it cost to repair a family torn apart by the criminal justice system?

It's so easy to say "lock 'em up and throw away the key," but it's something else altogether to sit down and discuss alternative means of handling the vast numbers of people who walk through the criminal justice system every day.

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