States could improve public safety and save millions of dollars by investing in community-based alternatives, argue to two research briefs issued today by the Justice Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization. With states facing serious budgetary constraints, the reports offer policymakers juvenile and criminal justice frameworks to guide them in making budget decisions.
One report finds that states spend about $5.7 billion each year imprisoning youth, mostly for nonviolent offenses. It concludes that most youth could be managed safely in the community through alternatives that cost much less than incarceration and could lower recidivism by up to 22 percent. These alternatives were said to be more cost-effective in reducing crime than incarceration, yielding up to $13 in benefits for every dollar spent. The other report, “Pruning Prisons: How Cutting Corrections Can Save Money and Protect Public Safety,” says similar benefits can be found in the adult system through investments in treatment and parole services. States could save a combined $4.1 billion by increasing the availability of parole by shifting 10 percent of the prison population into the parole system, and improving parole support and services so that fewer people are returned to prison for rule violations. The report finds that community-based drug treatment provides bigger crime reduction returns than prison–for every dollar spent on community drug treatment, the state gets $18 in benefits.