Can The Prisons Be Reformed?

David Cole wonders:

[T]he prison boom has high costs for all of us. A new prison opens somewhere in the United States every week. Imprisoning a human being in this country costs a minimum of $20,000 a year, far more than tuition at any of our state universities. National spending on prisons and jails was $7 billion in 1980; it is $60 billion today. Several states now spend more on state prisons than state colleges. We literally cannot afford our political addiction to incarceration.

Moreover, the incarceration boom means that there is also now a boom in prisoners being released. In 2008, approximately 700,000 prisoners were released. At current rates of recidivism, 469,000 of them will be rearrested within three years. We all have an interest in helping this at-risk population avoid a return to a life of crime.