I find the concept of efficiency interesting as I think about the overcrowded prisons in our America. Efficiency, defined by Stone as “getting the most for the least, or achieving an objective for the lowest cost.” What does this look like in corrections?
What is the purpose of the correctional system? If you have a criminal justice perspective you most likely will respond with a phrase similar to “keep society safe.” Someone with a background in the social science arena is more likely to say, “to provide programming/treatment to the offender in order to “rehabilitate” them so they can be productive tax-paying citizens of society.” Staying with the concept of efficiency, how is our current criminal justice system fulfilling either of these responses?
The challenge with the criminal justice system is that once you have your first encounter it can be hard to be set free from the cycle. Upon a first conviction you are often held responsible to pay both court fines and DMV fees. If your license has been suspended you cannot drive for the duration of the suspension accompanied by the fines being paid, or at a minimum, a payment plan arranged. As a result, many driving on suspended offenders continue to drive as a means of daily operation.
Here is one example of why I am perplexed by the concept of efficiency and corrections. Is it efficient for a habitual offender to serve two years in jail because they were caught driving on a suspended license? Most often people who are driving on a suspended license get “found out” by (9 out of 10 times) something minor while (usually) driving to work or some other very natural daily task. They most often get the cops attention for something as minor as: expired tags, a burnt out brake light, rolling through a stop sign, etc. (All of which I have been guilty of). Consider this, if it were a more serious crime in which they were arrested they would be sitting in jail for more than just a driving conviction.
I am in no way advocating for not following the law. Clearly, “doing the right thing” is a necessity for those who do not want to end up in the justice system. My point is this. On average it costs $25,000 a year to house an offender. While fulfilling this sentence the offender has lost their job (if they even had one), often times they develop high relational problems with friends and family, are no longer able to pay the mortgage (if they had been), and are housed with hardened criminals (which we know from research only makes an individual a harder criminal…even if they were not a “criminal” to begin with). So, after two years taxpayers have paid $50,000 for an offender serving a two-year sentence for driving on a suspended license. Were they really a danger to society to begin with? Likewise, the individual serving the sentence has lost two years of their life, have not improved their employability, and surely are not in a healthier financial state post incarceration. Yet, they still have those court fines and DMV fees to pay. Do we call this rehabilitation?
Does this sound like efficiency to you? In this example does it sound like society or the offender is “getting the most for the least?” or “achieving an objective for the lowest cost?” Assuming our objective for corrections is to either “keep society safe” or “rehabilitate an offender,” I am not convinced our correctional system works with efficiency. What are your thoughts?