Prison Education Cost Effective

This opinion piece in the Journal Star makes a good point: over incarceration and long sentences aren’t helpful in making changes. It argues that the state should repass LB1004, vetoed by Gov. Pete Ricketts. This bill supported by police and county attorneys, would have accelerated eligibility for parole. And it would have shortened sentences for people already incarcerated. Why does that matter? Well, most people grow up and “age out” of crime.

And besides, at least 95% of Nebraska’s prisoners will be freed someday anyway. If we can release them before they become too institutionalized, then it improves the chances that they can find work, housing, and form positive social relationships. Yes, some will commit crime again, but the money saved by reducing the high incarceration rate can be used to fund more in-prison education, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and on better wrap-around services for those on parole and probation. The goal of our government, ultimately should be to serve its people and build safer societies, even if that means taking a long term approach.

We need a long term approach to combating crime, not long sentences. Among Western democracies, we incarcerate far more citizens per capita than the rest and we have little to show for it. Those other societies actually have similar or lower crime rates. So why are we still locking up people for relatively minor offenses, when even most crime victims, when given a choice, prefer responses that heal offenders and prevent future crime. 

When politicians argue for more prisons, they do so just to look tough on crime. But, facts don’t lie. Building more prisons won’t reduce crime. In fact, Corrections Director Scott Frakes says those incarcerated for drug crimes have an average of 20 prior convictions. If just locking people up worked, people wouldn’t return so many times. Only shifting the money towards education and mental health programs will make a difference.

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