Criminologists insist the crime rates needn't rise. In fact, they argued in an amicus brief, sending select low-risk prisoners through early release programs can even reduce crime rates, or so data from other jurisdictions suggest. But is a prison system so dysfunctional that the Supreme Court is forcing it to release convicts really going to excel at putting them back out into society in the least damaging way? I have my doubts. State officials here manage to do a lot of things worse than they're done elsewhere.
That's why I am hoping that if they're released, these 30,000 lucky prisoners face one unusual obstacle to recidivism: a sophisticated ankle bracelet that doesn't come off until their original term would've ended. It's an approach Graeme Wood writes about at length in his September 2010 piece in this magazine:
Devices such as the ExacuTrack, along with other advances in both
the ways we monitor criminals and the ways we punish them for their
transgressions, suggest a revolutionary possibility: that we might turn
the conventional prison system inside out for a substantial number of
inmates, doing away with the current, expensive array of guards and
cells and fences, in favor of a regimen of close, constant surveillance
on the outside and swift, certain punishment for any deviations from an
established, legally unobjectionable routine. The potential upside is
enormous. Not only might such a system save billions of dollars
annually, it could theoretically produce far better outcomes, training
convicts to become law-abiders rather than more-ruthless lawbreakers.
The ultimate result could be lower crime rates, at a reduced cost, and
with considerably less inhumanity in the bargain.
In the same piece, the reader is informed that "in California, the cost per inmate has kept pace with the cost of an Ivy League education, at just shy of $50,000 a year." There's your funding. Perhaps the stars are aligning for the nation's largest ever early release-with-ankle-bracelet experiment. Normally it wold prove impossible to try on this scale. What politician would risk letting the convicts out? But if California has got to release these inmates regardless... so why not? Fitted with ankle bracelets, monitored, and found to serve out their terms without harming the public, perhaps the inmates would tip off the people of this state to the fact that they're wasting millions every year incarcerating nonviolent criminals when an alternative punishment would work better.
Worth a try?
Image credit: Reuters