Both Real Cost of Prisons and Think Outside the Cage are playing up this op-ed from a former MI DOC director. The whole thing is worth reading but here are the key points that I would emphasize:
The current debate over prison spending misses a fundamental point. Crime prevention is the best protection for public safety!
Prevention includes pre- and post-natal care, early childhood education, after-school programs, mental health and substance abuse treatment.
The impact of prisons on crime rates is debatable. In 1984, Michigan prisons held fewer than 15,000 people. Our incarceration rate was 158 per 100,000 citizens and our violent crime rate was 760 per 100,000. By 1992, the incarceration rate had climbed to 408 and the population was nearly 39,000. However, the crime rate actually increased to 770. [emphasis mine.]
Offenders are sent to prison as punishment and to be segregated from the community. Prisons are not designed to "rehabilitate." Making education, vocational training and treatment available to prisoners is important, but such programs can be delivered much less expensively in the community.
If we really care about crime prevention, we will stop paying for more prisons than we need. We will invest instead in the universities that make our state great, the services that vulnerable citizens need badly and, above all, the children we can keep from becoming the next generation of prisoners.