Independent blogger John Tsitrian smartly ties the ACLU’s Smart Justice campaign against mass incarceration to Democratic Congressional candidate Tim Bjorkman’s profoundly useful position paper on the social costs of crime and imprisonment. Tsitrian wonders why we’d spend so much money locking people up when that does so little to repair broken people and reduce our ongoing costs:
Setting aside the altruistic impulse to help these people for a moment, consider the cost of housing and caring for nearly 4,000 prisoners every day. In 2014 (most recent number I could find from South Dakota’s Department of Corrections) it cost $54.00 a day to incarcerate an inmate. That comes out to more than $70 million a year–and we’re just talking about the state prison system, not country or other local jailhouse facilities. If most of those prisoners, say 60% extrapolating from Bjorkman’s numbers, are non-violent, you have to wonder if the money used to imprison them wouldn’t be better spent trying to get these troubled people some help [John Tsitrian, “Warehousing People in South Dakota’s Prisons Isn’t Working,” The Constant Commoner, 2018.08.08].
We probably can’t expect any better policies from a Republican Party that has made Lock her up! a rallying cry. I’ll be talking with the ACLU later today to learn more about their Smart Justice campaign and what alternative policies might produce better results for our state budget and for our fellow South Dakotans. Stay tuned for that podcast over the weekend!