Instead of paying private corrections per bed, per day, which incentivizes them to maximize both beds and days, what if we paid them for crime reduction by the sentenced individual? Let's say it costs $30,000 per year to incarcerate someone. Let's try an example of someone who is sentenced to 10 years in prison. What if we paid only $15,000 per year for incarceration behind walls but $30,000 a year for each for of crime-free post-release, up to 5 years? I'm picking 5 years as the point after which the odds that someone has been successfully rehabilitated go up and the odds of later recidivism go way down.
With this payment system, a for-profit corrections company would be strongly motivated to provide maximum resources toward rehabilitation, such as addiction treatment, job training, psychiatric care, etc. It would be in their profit interests to rehab and release someone as soon and as thoroughly as possible. The company would also be responsible for providing post-conviction supervision and support, such as halfway houses, employment services, effective but supportive probation and monitoring. This is where they can cash in: they would be paid $30,000 a year for supporting an ex-con in the community so that they don't re-offend. I'm sure the services don't have to cost that much.
Back to our example: If our convict remains in prison for the whole 10 years, the correction company only gets $150,000 and loses money on the deal. If they are paroled after 5 years and do not re-offend for the next 5 years, the company gets $75,000 for the incarceration and $150,000 for 5 years of offense-free parole, the company get $225,000 at lower expenses and make a profit. In this way, best practices in corrections and rehabilitation would also become the most profitable.
Obviously, putting this in place would that we as a country rethink our justice system. Currently we see criminal sentences as punishment or deterrent to others. This is not working. If deterrence was going to work, it would have worked already and we would have practically no crime in the country. It would require we view criminal sentencing from a perspective of public safety and harm reduction. In other words, what if, when someone when someone had committed a crime and was convicted, we asked not, "How evil was this person and how severely should they be punished?", but "How can we maximize the chances that this person will not commit another crime?" and "How can we use correction resources best to reduce crime overall?"
Now, I think we all understand that real justice reform is much bigger than whether or not we have privately run prisons or how they are paid. We have the highest incarceration rate in the world. That has to end. We need to stop locking up people who are mentally ill and pose no danger to others. The vast majority of Americans behind bars are there for low-level drug offenses, crimes with no victims. That has to end. If we don't tackle justice reform head-on, it won't matter much whether millions of Americans are behind bars at privately run prisons or ones runs by the government.
A plan like the one I am putting out here would only work as part of a larger prison reform. I hope it stimulates some good thinking and discussion.
Some questions I have not been able to address here:
- What about the aspect of punishment? Should an offender pay for their crimes? How?
- What about criminals who cannot be rehabilitated, who will certainly re-offend if released after any number of years?
- Who has how much voice in parole decisions? What if the prison decides someone is ready for release, but parole is denied by a (politicized) parole board?
- What liability does the prison company have if an ex-con re-offends on their watch, especially if the offense has actual victims?
We have a lot of great minds on DKos. The best ideas are developed collectively. My intersection with the corrections systems is that I have served for several years as a prison chaplain, and have spoken with many prisoners about their experiences there. Some of you may have been in the justice system, having served time. Some of you may have worked in the justice system, as public defenders, prosecutors, judges, parole officers, or in the prison industry itself. Your perspectives will be better informed than mine.
UPDATE - After some great comments:
1. I am not strongly attached to this proposal. It was meant to get a conversation started. If it inspires something better from some other corner, that was the idea.
2. To emphasize what I said in a comment; I really think a publicly run justice/corrections model that is evidence-based and works on best practices free from the hysterical war-on-crime hysteria that prevails in most states would be even better than a privately run system.
Do we have a model for such a system that really works, has been in existence without political interference long enough to demonstrate results, and has support from all community stakeholders? I hope there one is out there somewhere. If you know of it, please post!
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