It is undeniable that, initiating crimes aside, such facilities play a significant role in reducing disciplinary incidents, rage and acting out so common to male facilities exemplified, if somewhat exaggeratedly, by such prime T.V. fare as "Oz" and Clint Eastwood lensers. Similarly, guarding architectural cottages is obviously a less stressful affair, easing the supervisory burden by a quantum.
To some historical extent, architecture is behavior: Saddam Hussein in a filthy rat-hole will behave far differently than will a Martha Stewart in Camp Cupcake.
Persuasive as this architectural reform paradigm is on a number of levels, provided finances and intention are in place, it could be accomplished with greater dispatch, but less enduring efficacy, than a top-down re-purposing and analysis of current prison mindset and philosophy would. Modification of service staff (guards, support staff, social services personnel) and prisoner attitudes must accompany all institutional reformatting, much more difficult to engineer than open-style living arrangements. Despite enormous attention from government and alarums in the media, incarceration rates have risen exponentially during the past three decades. Where in 1972, U.S. prisons held some 96,000 inmates, by 1992 that number had risen to 846,000.
Interestingly, this inmate population expansion was not echoed in other first-world countries. Elsewhere, prison populations experienced no such spikes.
Nor were increase prison rates parallel across the 50 states: Rate increases went from a low in West Virginia of a 55 percent to a rise in Delaware of 69 percent. Both socioeconomic and political (now, also religious) causes contribute to the hike in prison populations. Recent theoretical understandings indicate that reporting variations probably account for some rate differences.
Out of a myriad of possible reasons for the rise in the prison population, three theories predominate: Societal crime (Durkheim-Blumstein;) economics (Marxist/Rusche & Kucheiner theory;) and today's frequently invoked favorite, racist bias against minorities theory. Experts differ as to which is the prime determinant of current arrest rates.
While in the public's mind one goal of imprisonment is both reformation and eventual return to useful citizenship, in the regimentation community it is unquestionably custodial and incapacitation -- keeping the community at large free from further depredations by the imprisoned. One aim of reform, therefore, might be to conflate the best public paradigm with the lesser view that does not hold the prison community as subject to totally successful refurbishment.
Looking at the reformatory architectural model, the male prisoner, in his bunk-bedded, partnered cell, is systematically deprived of his clothing, possessions, personal liberty and basic freedoms, goods and services, intimate relations and autonomy. Weighed, inspected, documented, branded with an identifying number rather than his given name, the prisoner is subject to both psychological and physiological assault.
Example: One Pelican Bay State Prison (California) super-max unit in 2004 held 1,400 prisoners. Each cell is 7 1/2 feet by 11 feet on average. With a metal back wall perforated to let in light, each cell radiates out from a central hub axis, and is inaccessible to anybody other than its two cellmates.
In the 1980s crowding, rising costs and behavior modification were focal currents in an era of largely short-term aggression control and incapacitation. These theoretical constructs gave rise imperceptibly to rehabilitation, or "growth-centered" intervention. This was retail rehab.
Overcrowding plus age of convict plus housing conditions equals the variability of violence and questionable health. Add a shortage of programs and resources for relief and rehabilitation, plus stressed and under-prepared staff, and conditions are ripe for disorientation and rage.
Prison population -- numbers
Between 1995 and 2000, the rise in violent offenders accounts for 63 percent of the total prison population. White drug offenders represented 15 percent of the total. From 1995 to 2001, there was a net gain in two of the four major criminal categories: Violent crime rose from 47 percent to 49 percent; civil disturbances went from 9 percent to 11 percent. Contrastingly, both property and drug offenses totals dropped slightly, from 23 percent to 19 percent, and 22 percent to 20 percent, respectively.
As of midyear 2004, the 2,131,180 prisoners listed were up 2.3 percent from the population in 2003. This represents a smaller rate spike than usual, which, since 1995, grew at 3.5 percent per annum, or some 486 prisoners per 100,000, up from year-end 1995, when it stood at 411 per 100,000. A breakout of prisoners show the figure rose 2 percent for blacks and Hispanics since 2003, at 4,919 and 1,717, respectively. During that time, female prisoners rose 2.9 percent from 2003, to a total of 1,390,906 under state or Federal custody.
Upkeep: what prisons cost, what victims pay
Based on a 1990 Wisconsin prisoner self-report survey done by Anne Morrison Piehl (Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Kennedy School of Government and Harvard University) and John J. DiLuliu (Professor of Politics and Public Affairs, Princeton University, and Director, Brookings Center for Public Management), 200 convicted "average" felons cost the state of Wisconsin $2.5 million. By contrast, using various modalities of measurement, the same felons unapprehended would have cost the state some $4.6 million. This figure is a modest, highly conservative estimate, however. According the Piehl & DiLuliu, for one-quarter of the prison population, correctional options such as monitored probation and intensive treatment programs would be even more cost effective.
A 1993 survey, sampling 4 percent of recent male New Jersey entrants into the prison population, shows that by the numbers, prison does indeed pay for the community at large where most of these prisoners are concerned, many of whom are violent or repeat offenders who pose a discernible threat.
But not for all. Particularly drug offenders, the majority of whom are neither violent nor repeat offenders. The survey indicates that both the public and its treasury could benefit if 10 to 25 percent were either under another correctional regime, or released altogether under some variant of work release/custodial program.
Contrarily, Lawrence A. Greenfeld, a US Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) statistician, in 1991 stated that 94 percent of convicted drug offenders have a history of violence or have been previously incarcerated for prior offenses. It is widely understood that this figure probably underestimates the severity of the crimes committed (based upon same 711,000 state prisoner sample.)
Greenfeld estimates the cost of prisoner upkeep per year at $25,000. Recent estimates add a thousand to this. Both contrast sharply with BJS cost estimates of between $15,586 for state upkeep per annum vs. $14,456 for Federal prisons. These figures derive from dividing expenditures on salaries and wages, supplies, utilities, transportation, contractual services, upgrades of equipment, and similar major cost items by the average daily prison population. Hidden and indirect nontrivial costs, including non-correctional workers, central budgeting services, and human resources workers, bring the earlier, lower figures closer to the $25,000 mark, if not exceeding it.
Harvard economist Richard Freeman suggests another hidden cost: Prison decreases post-release employability and thus lifetime earnings potential.
Whatever actual costs, efficiency losses occur in places, but efficiency gains are possible in others.
Courts have impacted over the past 25 years on costs of opening prisons and the roster of associated costs. In Texas, in 1980, costs zoomed from $91 million up 10-fold by 1994 to $1.84 billion, during which time the prison population itself merely doubled. Texas is one of 20 states expending less than half of every prison dollar on security.
Looked at broadly, state and local governments spend some 15 times what the Federal government, with various efficiencies of scale, does. Despite that, state and local expenditures on jails is only some $80.20 per person/year -- or $1.54 per capita/week. Not an unseemly expenditure.
The four goals of incarceration are retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation and incapacitation. Studies demonstrating the effectiveness of the first three do not even exist, but because we have been able in some measure to monetize the last element, there are evident benefits in retribution, deterrence and rehab in a proportion of the incarcerated, although these benefits are likely to be underestimated. Only direct costs on victims have been measured, ignoring lost wages, medical costs after lengthy hospitalization, sick leave, loss of job, moving costs, increased insurance, pain and suffering, and alienation of affection from loved ones.
Ted R. Miller (and others) in Health Affairs (1993) did a more comprehensive study, where he factored in to prior assessments those costs such as lost quality of life from death or injury, physical or psychological deficits from violent crime.
Miller’s study put the cost of murder at $2.4 million; rape, at $60,000; arson, $50,000, assault, $25,000, and robbery, $19,000. Using these guidelines, the total cost to victims/society of all crimes between 1987 and 1990 was $178 billion/year -- many times the BJS figures. And even this figure, large as it is, exempts extended hospital-stay costs and intangibles such as divorces resulting from long-term effects of crime.
The Wisconsin study, for example, over the 41-month sample period, found that 1,035 patients admitted to hospital for gunshots were likely to accumulate more than $16 million in bills, $6.8 million of that coming out of our taxes. Moreover, each gunshot victim incurs about $5 million in lost wages and medical expenses over the ensuing 35 years.
Contrarily, incapacitating criminals --leaving them in jail as opposed to letting them out early on parole for good behavior-- obviated massive costs, according to BJS expert Patrick J. Longan: An estimated 66,000 fewer rapes, 323,000 fewer robberies, 380,000 fewer assaults and 3.3 million fewer burglaries were attributable to the difference between the incarcerations of 1973 and those of 1989. Longan observed that if only one half or a quarter of the reduced crimes were due to vigorous prison incarceration of criminals on first crime, that would translate into a massive drop in crime. By tripling the prison population, he said, from ’75 to ’89, reported and unreported violent crime was 10 to 15 percent lower than it would have been, averting an aggregate of 390,000 estimated murders, rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults in 1989, alone.
The upshot of a 1993 New York study shows a benefits-to-costs ratio of 2.80 for every dollar spent to keep a felon behind bars. Society saves at least $2.80 in social costs per averted crime.
Parole/Probation--Fine or Folly?
Following this logic, and using study results, most probation and parole are counterproductive. Within three years of release, half of all probationers and parolees commit crimes and are arraigned anew. Many simply disappear from custodial supervision, no doubt into below-the-line activities. Of 5 million under criminal supervision, 72 percent of this figure is not institutionalized; complicating this is the fact that even violent offenders rarely serve more than 40 percent of their sentences.
It is a truism that annually, community-based felons commit an enormous number of crimes --some violent-- that would have been impossible had they remained inside. Parole has been woefully under-funded. While about half, as observed earlier, recidivate, half do not. But nationally, we spend about 7.5 times more on prisons (containing only 28 percent of the supervised criminal population.) That is 20 times as much to incarcerate as expended to manage and supervise the released and presumably re-habilitated.
The incapacitation of drug offenders however, unlike all other crimes, is a myth. The moment a drug seller goes off the market or street, another instantly takes his place -- opportunity has presented itself. Which means that, absent violence, society gains nothing from incarcerating drug offenders --except retribution-- at $15,000 to $26,000 a pop. And as some criminals of this ilk are rehabilitated in prison, and do not recidivate, it makes sense to establish a different modality with drug offenders who are not violent and who have had no priors. This society does little to avert repeat crimes with a no-parole policy for drug offenders.
Some Facts: (1) Of all drug offenders sent to NYS prisons in 1999, nearly 80 percent were never convicted of a violent felony; (2) African-Americans and Latinos comprise more than 92 percent of the drug offenders in NYS prisons; and (3) Several studies have shown that treatment programs, on the whole, are more successful in reducing levels of drug abuse and crime.
The most judicious policy, accordingly, can be built by an accurate assessment of the amount and severity of crimes committed by such nonviolent first-timers, and redefine conditions under which such community-based individuals can be helped to succeed (they have already indicated a modicum of ingenuity and initiative in the open market) without further prison time. This will conserve state, local and Federal coffers, and will confer benefits from enhanced self-worth and individual productivity down the line.
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