PRISONOMICS- Making the criminal justice system productive

Posted on May 12, 2015. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |


The average daily cost of a prisoner to the US tax payer is roughly around US$ 65 per day, and then there are additional costs related to reoffenders costing the tax payers billions annually. For example, the cost of reoffending to the UK tax payer is estimated to roughly around £ 13 billion  annually. And this is not common just to the UK.  Most governments around the world run an inefficient criminal justice system that drains the public finances and also ends up wasting tax payers hard earned money without any real social benefits.

So in short, the criminal justice system in its current shape and form isn’t really a good value for money for the society, and apart from locking away the individuals at a huge financial cost to the society, there are no measurable return on investments to the society at large. Punishing someone for their crime is delivering justice for the society as per the prevailing law of the land, but the infrastructure through which justice is delivered needs to be revisited. So it’s probably time for  the policy makers to re-approach the whole criminal justice strategy.

A strategy that is focused and tailored, where prisons become a contributor to the society. And here are some of the ideas that could be worth exploring.

– every prison should have 3/4 hours of daily educational and vocational courses made compulsory. The education program could be delivered by a mix of various state universities, NGOs and other institutions.

– people serving their sentence should be trained and prepared to re-enter the society, get a job and have a new start. The employment could be supervised and monitored for a year or two to make sure the transition period is well managed. And the supervision costs could be deducted from the salaries of the individuals.

– the individuals could be asked to contractually payback some of the cost of their rehabilitation by getting them to contribute up to 20% of their annually income for a period of  5/7 years. This could also be tailored to make sure the process is fair. The payment structure could be in the form of additional tax levied on the individuals to recover at least part of the cost incurred by society on the rehabilitation the individuals.

– individuals with entrepreneurial mindset could be encouraged to start their business with the support of a commercial wing of the prisons. For example, a singer/ song writer with the help of the prison commercial wing could launch themselves as a writer/ author, and publish a book. People with entrepreneurial aptitudes could be encouraged to start a venture among other things. The commercial wing could do a contract that will allow it to take a percentage of the annual revenue for a period of 5/7 years as a part of its pay back strategy.

– the criminal records of the offenders could be expunged after the completion of their contractual terms as part of their full rehabilitation program.

– prisoners on death row convicted for killing others in countries like the US could be encouraged to volunteer for various clinical trials conducted by pharmaceuticals and similar companies with right safeguards in place. This might be a controversial step but rather then having a society pay a government to end a human life, it makes all the sense to put that human life to good use, and in directly allow that individual to make some contribution towards the progress of society by assisting in creation of a product/remedy that would one day save human lives and not take it. Obviously there will need to be checks and balance put in place to stop abuse of the system.

And the immediate real benefits to the TAX payers will be quite significant. For example, If through the new strategy, reoffending declines by 30/40 percent then over time the society will be savings the billions that it is currently spending. Also if the strategy succeeds in rehabilitating 50% of the individuals ( as an example ) then the tax payers will be in a position to recoup part of the cost incurred by the system, and in the process bring down the overall cost of the criminal justice system by a sizeable amount. And most importantly there will be a huge overall social benefit for the society as well as the individuals, which can’t be measured in terms of money.

No doubt privately operated correction facilities or PRISONS are an extremely profitable business, and all of their earnings comes from the TAX PAYERS. But any BUSINESS has to make money so there is nothing wrong in that, but having said that while a high prison population is good for business, it isn’t for the society in general. So a strategy that works for the society as well as for the operators should be explored and encouraged by all the parties with vested interest, and its time, a real and fair debate aimed at creating a better and efficient criminal justice system was encouraged. Prisons could be made productive by revisiting and revamping the existing criminal justice system.

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