President Obama, in his State of the Union address, included a call for the overhaul of the nation’s criminal justice system. As reported on NJ.com, this issue has been a focus of New Jersey’s Senator Cory Booker.
The president intends to work with both sides of the aisle to allow for alternatives to incarceration of non-violent offenders. President Obama was encouraged that for the first time in 40 years, the crime rate and incarceration rate have come down together.
Senator Booker stated that he had several conversations with the President regarding this subject. An exorbitant amount of money is spent on the incarceration of people who shouldn’t be behind bars. Additional costs are also incurred when those individuals have trouble finding jobs upon their release. Additionally, the Senator continued, reducing unnecessary government spending is one of the best ways to boost the economy.
Finally, Mr. Booker has stated that the war on drugs disenfranchises minorities “the way slavery and the Jim Crow laws once did.”
There are three important take-away points:
1) It makes financial sense to avoid incarceration.
Prisons are a necessary tool to punish offenders, and protect society from their behavior. They are, however, a large expense and financial strain on our system. In 2013, The Washington Post reported that it costs an estimated $21,000 – $33,000 per prisoner per year. Additionally, we lose the productivity each inmate would have provided.
A further cost of imprisonment involves the difficulty for released prisoners in finding employment. Thus, even while not incarcerated, these rehabilitated individuals often still require financial aid.
2) There are other avenues of recovery; certain crimes might not warrant incarceration.
While few, if any, would argue against incarcerating violent offenders, imprisonment for minor crimes or drug offenses has been highly debated. Many believe that treatment for drug use is more beneficial then imprisonment.
By treating the cause of certain problems – addiction for example – the resulting crimes will be halted.
3) The problem of fair application of the law.
Mr. Booker highlighted a problem with, specifically, the War on Drugs. This war, he has stated, unfairly targeted minorities. While beyond the scope of this article, it is vital to recognize the problems in penalizing people differently for committing the same offenses.
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