You didn’t do the crime, but you’re still paying for the time

March 12, 2017

Would you be shocked to see this bill in your mailbox? Would you be even more shocked if you knew you’ve been helping to pay for it?

You didn’t do the crime, but you’re still paying for the time

The bill pictured above is the estimate of ONE person’s time in prison. This amount takes into account room and board, security, health care, operations, administration and other services. This is completely covered by taxpayer dollars, to the tune of more than $25,000 a year, per inmate (Vera Institute of Justice, Price of Prisons in Ohio, 2012). That’s like sending one of your children to a public university and paying tuition and rent for a year. Add on a court room, price of lawyers, and the average taxable income loss, and the price tag begins to equal a sizeable down payment on a new home. These “hidden” bills don’t just affect one person. They’re paid for by every tax-paying citizen in our nation. Even worse, these are only the short-term costs.

The long-term costs of imprisonment are even more expensive. Even after completing a sentence in prison, the transition back into the community is not an easy one. After release from prison, many people convicted of crimes have no place to live, no means of transportation and no money. They may have not have access to a change of clothing, a shower or even food. They may not have a family support system to help them start over, and if they do, many families don’t have the financial means to support anything beyond their most basic necessities.  Having been out of work while serving time in prison takes a significant toll on both the offender and his or her family, as well as the community. Finding a job with a criminal record is exceedingly difficult, and can become an impossible task, given the barriers that are created when an applicant is lawfully required to disclose felony convictions on job applications. According to studies by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), this requirement alone reduces the chances of a person being hired by as much as 50%.  

The result is like a risky game of dominos. One piece falls and the others fall soon after. No employment means no income and no income means relying on governmental and community funding. The cumulative related expenses are paid by taxpayers in the form of social services and public assistance, but the emotional toll is paid by the families and neighborhoods that are powerless stop the cycle.

These factors need to make us all deeply reconsider how our society handles low-level, non-violent crimes, and the people who commit them. The reality is that community corrections programs, like those offered by Alvis, are both cost efficient and have been proven to be more effective in preventing a person’s return to the criminal justice system when compared to a prison sentence.

The per-person cost for treatment at a community corrections facility, like Alvis, is around $6,000 per year. That’s a $19,000 difference from the cost of sentencing the same offender to prison for a year. That’s a significant savings that captures only a small portion of the overall savings opportunity that comes with community corrections programs.

Community corrections programs also offer intangible forms of return on investment. The reality is that individuals who spend time in our state’s correctional system are our neighbors, our family, our friends and our community members who have made mistakes. Many suffer from addiction and/or mental health issues. Community correction programs understand the factors that often drive criminal behavior, and they offer a safe, stable environment where individuals can address the issues that led to their crime, so they can work on creating a new path forward.

Clients in Alvis residential reentry programs live in a dorm-like environment while participating in evidence-based programming. Our trained professionals provide cognitive behavioral treatment and substance abuse treatment.  Being at Alvis means our clients have the opportunity to stay connected with their family and with the community. Alvis offers programming that reconnects and rebuilds healthy relationships between parents and children, preparing them for moving forward together, after Alvis. Our reentry services team works with a plethora of companies that hire our clients during their stay in our program – providing invaluable job experience.  We mentor and coach clients on how to address the “convicted of a felony” box with potential employers. We offer job training and certification programs to increase employability and to widen career opportunities for clients after leaving the program. 

Why does this matter? Because we not only prepare clients for a successful transition back into the community, but while clients are involved in our programs, they earn more than $2.5 million in taxable wages and pay over $100,000 in child support, restitution, fines and court cost each year. These milestones help clients continue to be productive members of our community during their stay with us. That doesn’t happen in prison.

Community corrections programs have also proven successful in reducing recidivism, which saves taxpayer dollars.  Each instance of recidivism costs taxpayers, on average, over $40,000, which includes costs for the arrest, trial, court proceedings, incarceration and supervision. Adding in the costs of future victimization and indirect costs takes the total to nearly $120,000 per incident of recidivism (Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council, 2015).

Ohio’s recidivism rate is only about 28%, compared to the national average rate of recidivism of almost 50%.  Many believe this dramatic difference is the direct result of Ohio’s commitment to evidence-based programming. As Director Gary Mohr, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC), notes, “We know treatment in the community is twice as effective and one-third of the cost as comparable treatment in prison. The relationships with our community partners are critical as we work further to reduce Ohio’s already low recidivism rate.”

A felony is expensive. And not just for the person who committed the crime – it’s expensive to all of us.  Knowing the facts, what would you choose? To pay less for programs that are about twice as effective; or pay far more for a program that is much less effective?  At Alvis, we believe in paying less and getting better results. That’s the impact of turning lives around – by 180 degrees. 

Mariah Haitz, Communications Intern, is the primary author of this blog post.

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