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March 25, 2013 at 6:15 AM

The cost of getting tough on crime

Researching crime bills for our “how not to build another prison” editorials which ran Sunday (here here here and here), I came across the interesting chart below. It tracks the projected impact of crime bills dating back to 1986 based on the fiscal notes and some nifty calculations by Gongwei Chen, the state’s senior forecaster with the Caseload Forecast Council.

It had too many caveats to reproduce for the newspaper, and some of the projections ended up being way off (the Three Strike law has locked up closer to 400 than 900 inmates, for example).

But it is is a great visual representation of the financial costs of the “get tough on crime” approach. Each person on this chart costs the state an average of $34,123.85 per year. They add up, in a hurry.

Prison population by legislative bill

Just as interesting, the Legislature recently has whittled down the prison population (as the chart below shows), with no significant impact on crime rates.

prison population with crime rateSome of the prison-population reduction bills offered smart alternatives to incarceration, including expansion of the Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative. We’ve also sped up deportation for convicted felons in the country illegally.

Some crime bills make sense. I’ve been to at least seven of our state prisons over the past 15 years, and talked to guys I never want meet again. But next time your lawmaker talks about getting tough on crime, think about this chart, and the bow-wave effect of each new or longer sentence.

If you’re interested in more info, email me at jmartin@seattletimes.com for the raw data and Gongwei’s explanation.

 

Comments | Topics: crime, Department of Corrections, Washington State Legislature

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