Today, the New York Times published an article (“To Trim Costs, States Relax Hard Line on Prisons”) on the increasing number of states relying on alternatives to incarceration as a means of cutting costs. Eventually it had to stop. The fact that hard economy reality is leading the charge to change the way we do business in the prison system is an opportunity we can’t afford to miss.
In the article, New York State gets a small mention for its latest attempt to reform the harsh mandatory sentencing laws that have fueled much of the State’s outsize prison costs, but it fails to mention an innovative effort underway to address the most difficult and expensive challenge in the prison system – addicted former inmates who violate parole. In a new program, three of the government agencies involved in criminal justice and addiction (NYS Department of Corrections, NYS Division of Parole, and NYS Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services) are working together with Odyssey House to control costs and improve outcomes for eligible parole violators who, consistent with the pathology of addiction, are at risk of relapsing several times before achieving lasting sobriety.
For decades, drug courts and drug treatment providers have worked together to divert non-violent drug offenders away from prison cells and into treatment. The savings to society are significant – $18,000 per bed for basic long-term treatment, compared to $35,000 average cost of prison, and a return of seven-to-one in reclaimed productivity, for every dollar spent on treatment – but even greater is the saving in individual lives and reunited families.