Coming for your wallet - That persistent jail thing

Wherein citizens snooze, they lose

Wherein citizens snooze, they lose

Many remain amazed at the county administration’s determination to build a too-big jail outside the city - the sheriff’s and executive’s bid for a big, flat, rural jail. Evidence is emerging that the costs are likely to far exceed what has been reported.

In the “Costs of Incarceration Policies” by the Rutgers University School of Criminal Justice, written for the National Institute of Corrections, a 500 bed jail example is used. This is very close to the size currently proposed by the county administration. In this study, hidden costs increase reported costs by 5.5x the official estimate.

But wait! It gets worse.

In “The Economic Burden of Incarceration in the U.S.” by the Institute for Advancing Justice Research and Innovation…

“For every dollar in corrections costs, incarceration generates an additional ten dollars in social costs. More than half of the costs are borne by families, children, and community members who have committed no crime.” The study suggests that the reported national $80 billion cost of corrections translates into $1 trillion in comprehensive costs - 12.5x officially reported costs.

In the “Who Pays Report,” a national community-driven research project with 26 coordinating organizations, the nuts and bolts of how the incarceration industry sucks money out of inmates, taxpayers, community members and business is outlined. Corrections is a thoroughly gamed corporate money vacuum cleaner preying on local communities, and lying about it.

The Washington State Institute for Public Policy also took a comprehensive look at the cost/benefit ratios of various correctional service alternatives.

Employment and job training assistance during incarceration had a benefit to cost ratio of over $75 per dollar spent and a 99% chance that benefits will exceed costs. Electronic monitoring has a 94% chance of benefits exceeding costs. Correctional education and drug treatment - 100%. Meanwhile, more conventional correction approaches fared less well: For adults, intensive supervision through surveillance had a 5% chance of benefits exceeding costs, while for juveniles, intensive probation supervision had a 0% chance of success. Yet the system insists on activities with little or no benefit and resists those that might help. It’s another misery money machine, like medicine.

You can read these studies yourself. You can find a lot more. Or you can swallow the gruel we are fed.

Remarkably, citizens continue to engage and resist after a decade of administrative deflection. Local groups have beaten the jail proposal back from over 800 beds to the administration’s begrudging compromise of 500+ phase one beds. But it’s time to keep on beating because they are still lying about the true costs.

Even using the official numbers, a local CPA found the jail likely to bankrupt the county. Multiply that by whatever makes sense to you - 5, 10 or 12+ - and you’ll see why opposing this security state boondoggle is so important. Ending up needing to privatize a massive public investment and having bankruptcy receiver managers appointed by the court to handle the county’s finances is not something any voter or taxpayer should relish.

The Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force is the latest iteration of our community’s concerned citizens struggle against the sheriff/prosecutor/executive cabal for an expanded prison industry in Whatcom County. Want to save some money, help community friends and family, reduce the punitive security state and help prioritize more effective cost/benefit ratio programs? Then check in and get involved - locally.

Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.

About Tip Johnson

Citizen Journalist and Editor • Member since Jan 11, 2008

Tip Johnson is a longtime citizen interest advocate with a record of public achievement projects for good government and the environment. A lifelong student of government, Tip served two terms [...]

Comments by Readers

Larry Horowitz

Jan 05, 2017

Tip, thanks for the great article and excellent research.

 As you know, the adverse social impacts of incarceration on an entire community are mindboggling.   The “Economic Burden of Incarceration” article alone identifies almost two dozen, including: 

  • Lost wages and reduction in lifetime earnings of incarcerated persons;
  • The criminogenic nature of prison, which increases crime by reinforcing behavior and survival strategies that are maladaptive outside the prison environment;
  • Increased criminality of children of incarcerated parents (children of incarcerated parents are five times more likely to go to prison);
  • Impaired education level and subsequent wages of children of incarcerated parents;
  • Divorce (incarcerated persons have triple the divorce rate of people who are convicted but not incarcerated);
  • Adverse health effects (66% of incarcerated persons and family members experience mental health effects such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder);
  • Child welfare costs and increased foster care caseloads;
  • Homelessness (between 25% and 50% of the homeless population is formerly incarcerated);
  • Children rendered homeless by parental incarceration (at least 60,000 children become homeless as a result of parental incarceration);

 We all pay for these social costs.  There is no escaping them.  We need a better model for keeping non-violent offenders out of prison and providing them with the assistance they need to get back on track.  As Tip has pointed out, for every dollar we spend helping our fellow men and women, we receive multiples in return. 

 What decision-maker wouldn’t agree to spend a dollar to receive a seventy-five dollar benefit in return?

 Are we really that short-sighted?  

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