USA Today recently had an article looking at the impact that life prison sentences was having on states' corrections budgets. Inside the article was this great quote from one of Texas' own state legislators.
"The challenge for us is to distinguish between the offenders we are afraid of — those who deserve to be locked up for life — and those who we are just mad at and who can be handled outside of prison," Texas state Sen. John Whitmire said.
Whitmire, a Houston Democrat, helped lead an effort to divert hundreds of offenders to less expensive treatment programs outside of prison. He said the cost of basic housing for an inmate serving life — calculated at $30,000 per year — can easily top $1 million over the inmate's lifetime.
Of course, there is also something to be said about trying to divert or discourage people from entering the criminal justice system altogether. That would ultimately be the cheapest option. Yet in an era when nearly every politician regardless of party affiliation wants to be seen as tough on crime, often at the expense of social programs, it's hard for the value of some programs to get through the rhetoric.
For example, providing accessible and effective drug and alcohol treatment programs can help keep people with substance abuse issues out of the criminal justice system. Yet, these types of programs are often the first to be cut when times get tight.
Let's just hope that our cost cutting doesn't prove to be awfully expensive in the long run.