I think it's pretty obvious after what happened in CA recently that serious efforts to reform prison pop demands on the rest of criminal justice and on the other vital public services will always be at risk simply because "more cells" is our default position in corr sent policy. I won't rehash the problems that poses for actually maxing out public safety and minimizing victimization. We've beaten that horse to death with no effect. What I would like to do here is to see if we can start a dialogue on what the actual alternatives are and how we can make their greater public value more acceptable to policymakers and the public. IOW, what's Plan B if commissions and guidelines can't break through, as they look to have stalled and very likely failed in CA? What underlying narratives can drive the legitimacy of alternatives to counter the false but bought "prison is tough on crime" narrative that bases the "more prisons" default?
I can think of three options that we've discussed here. The first is the old reliable "more sentencing and treatment options," which is very viable practically (as the successes of VA, NC, MN, and others show), especially if coupled with very good sentencing data that can shine light on sentences that don't have the same payoffs in public safety as others. The second is the far less common "allocate capped state funds to local jurisdictions for spending on state services and let them keep the savings each year" option, aka HMOs for crim just. I think making people actually pay for their decisions, unlike the system we have now, would force more serious local consideration of sentences, but you think HMOs are unpopular??? The third is my standard TECHNOCORRECTIONS--moving toward more pharmaceutical and genetic management of the neurochemicals that influence so much addictive and/or impulsive behavior for substance abusers, violent, or sex offenders, married if necessary to more high tech tracking and surveillance. Of the three, I think TECHNO is the only one with an underlying narrative that would seem punitive and denying of freedom enough to buy public acceptance, much as boot camps with their lesser duration nevertheless captured support simply because the public could picture that actual hardship was being inflicted.
But what do you think? The CA's and others we document here almost daily aren't solving their problems simply by building more cells in the short term. They're going to need other ideas. I know my pleas to get some conversation going here have fallen short of expectations (mine anyway), but this is important. What else is there to offer? How can we offer what we have better? Are we really caught in this draining cycle until all this country is the leader in is prison beds while everything else we should be investing in declines? Help an old, tired man out here.