Cure criminal justice ills by spending less? No. It’s a shift, says TNR.

The New Republic has an interesting piece about how reducing spending on mass incarceration won’t solve the main issues causing our over-incarceration problem despite the fact that we have bipartisan support to do so. It’s funny how when put in such blatant terms how obvious and damning that statement is.

It is clear to me that we need more alternatives, but we still need the money to go toward the people who need help easing their mental health or substance abuse problems. And it’s ongoing. One of the main stumbling blocks former addicts tell me they face is the lack of ongoing care once they are released from a program and go back home. For many, they go right back to the same apartments and cities where their issues developed—or thrived—in the first place. They need continuous support. Others tell me that after many years, they no longer need supportive services. Overall, the access to support or the decline of support needs to be solved on an individual basis, but, really, it feels we’ve created a one-size-fits-all approach.

We are talking about people who may be born into a world of the poverty-incarceration cycle. They need less jail time and more services and affordable housing options. We need to spend more time trying to prop up those born into it rather than bringing them down further.

From the TNR article:

That poverty itself also contributes to a cycle of poverty, crime, and incarceration—or that only focusing on specific offenders will hardly address the size of the problem—remained unsaid.

The narrative excludes vital fixes and alternatives to a justice system that require more resources, not less, and it ignores the proactive governance needed to transform the background conditions that foment crime in the first place.

In addition to mostly overlooking the need for increased spending in areas like indigent defense or domestic violence prevention, the current approach to carceral downsizing—in itself a positive end—doesn’t contend with the burden that penal policy has taken on as de facto social welfare.

Only cutting carceral spending—without simultaneously recommitting resources outside the prison walls—will leave the vulnerable to an even less supportive world than before mass incarceration.


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