A call for reform: U.S. prisons waste taxes, resources, time

Have you ever wondered where your state tax dollars are going? About $50 billion goes toward prison systems, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Inmates are entitled to humane facilities, short-term and long-term medical treatment and adequate mental health care. This is free of charge, courtesy of our W-2s. Yet, the United States’ prison system is still ineffective––we surpass all other countries in our incarceration rate while still dealing with a higher crime rate than other developed nations. What really drains the states’ funds is the medical care that inmates receive. They are entitled to treatment for the entirety of their sentence, no matter the severity of ailments. This includes dental care, medications and flu shots. Many inmates come from impoverished backgrounds where they don’t have this sort of medical coverage; giving them a higher quality of health care than they would receive outside of prison.

I understand the need for humane treatment—prisoners are still people—but they are in prison for a reason. Jails have a right to be slightly more lenient, but prisons only hold convicted criminals. Some inmates have committed murder, rape or theft, and then they receive a free teeth cleaning? It is no question why our recidivism rate, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, is 56.7 percent—how else will they get everything for free?

We are a civilized nation and I do not believe we should resort to cruel and unusual punishment, but there need to be greater consequences than those that currently exist. If an inmate has a life-threatening condition or one causing them significant pain, then they should receive treatment.

But if they are in a less severe condition that poses no risk to the guards or their fellow inmates, it would make more sense for them to pay for it. If they cannot pay and it’s not significant enough to have it dealt with by the state, they just have to persevere. A considerable number of inmates would not have been able to afford treatment outside of jail and yet, they have managed to survive thus far.

According to a study by Carolyn Deady of Salve Regina University, punishment on its own is not effective. It is obvious that rehabilitation outside of the prison system is an important step to reducing the crime rate in the U.S. The cost of supporting an inmate in prison is between $20,000 and $40,000 per year, whereas the cost of supervision while on probation is approximately $3,433 per year.

It would be more cost effective to reserve prisons for more severe punishment for shorter sentences and create longer parole periods with a focus on rehabilitation. This would serve to reduce recidivism rates in the long run while also cutting costs.

There is a large disparity between the state funding of students and the state funding of inmates. In all 40 states where data was collected, the 2010 U.S. Census found that the annual amount spent on inmates exceeds that which is spent on students. We are not using our resources effectively. Crime is a result of a lack of education, and yet we put our money into taking care of the prisoners later on in life.

Prisons themselves will not rehabilitate inmates, so we should use them properly. They are punishment for committing a crime and they should be a disincentive to commit crime in the future.