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Fiscal Savings through Alternative Sentencing

The January 2010 special report from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD) titled "The Extravagance of Imprisonment Revisited" analyzes the cost effectiveness of alternative sentencing nationwide, highlighting California, Texas, New York, and Florida. Although there are numerous alternative sentences for non-serious offenders, this report focuses on four methods: electronic monitoring, reporting programs, drug treatment, and drug courts.  The fiscal savings is significant with the potential for $9.7 billion in savings if these four alternatives were utilized for 80% (330,954) of the nation's non-serious offenders.  In California alone, the implementation of these four methods on 34,321 non-serious offenders could create a fiscal savings of $1.4 billion.

California's prison system is grossly overcrowded with 155,641 inmates in December 2009.  Currently, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation operates at 185.2% occupied. This number skyrocketed because of efforts such as the "war on drugs" and "three strikes".  Implementing these sentencing alternatives provides a financial incentive for the state, while reducing the in-custody population. 

In addition to the potential significant fiscal savings, the NCCD report indicates alternative sentencing practices creates a reduction in recidivism by allowing the offender to obtain needed treatment and gainful employment resulting in a successful reintegration to their community. 

The benefits of alternative sentencing are clear.  California and other states should consider the implementation of alternative sentencing for non-serious offenders to reduce recidivism rates and institutional overcrowding resulting in a significant fiscal savings.

~Tamra Otten, CJCJ staff

Keywords: best practices, cost-benefit analysis

Posted in Blog, Correctional Institutions

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