As we consider the law enforcement policies like the “three strikes laws” created to, “get tough on crime,” in the past decade, there are some serious financial consequences that should be evaluated. First, as more and more offenders of varying degrees of crimes are put in prison for longer periods of time, the cost associated with managing the inmate populations of prisons increases exponentially.
As a result, many scholars have noted that there are severe financial and social costs associated with building and maintaining new prisons and institutions for inmates. Not only are the building and expanding of facilities expensive for states, but the costs in managing them through increased resources for the daily care of the inmates adds to a states financial hardships. Policymakers have to begin to evaluate if the costs to society for these tough crime policies on the financial level are justified when compared to the costs of revising policies and rethinking criminal justice strategies.
As the rates of imprisonment increase with the current trend of more and more people being sentenced for longer periods of time, another serious consideration has to be made for the negative effects on inmate treatment. The punishment of imprisonment and restriction of freedoms and rights is one thing, but to exert inmates to overcrowded facilities that are degrading due to lack of resources can lead to mistreatment of those inmates. Hence, more money spent on investigations of malfeasance, higher costs of physical and psychological care as results of this overcrowding problem, and not to mention the aggressive lawsuits levied every day in this country. Morally speaking, states and policymakers have to consider the ramifications of the humane treatment of inmates as the “get tough laws” continue to be developed and enforced by the criminal justice system.
Coincidentally, as law enforcement agencies concentration more and more on certain high crime areas and specific type’s crimes, there is evidence of an inherent, and perhaps unintended, tendency to take a large percentage of males out of a specific community on average compared to other lower crime areas. When this happens there is some cursory evidence that the loss of males can have a negative effect on the family life in the community.
Specifically, sociologists point out that, in essence as more and more males go to prison for longer terms, families lose a husband and father charged with emotional, protective and financial leadership. This can ultimately lead to damaged families falling deeper into poverty and perhaps increasing crime rates caused by the lack of parental guidance that could normally keep children away from crimes of necessity or bad choices. This kind of strain could spill over into communities that rely on such families for certain things such as church or volunteer work, which is then hurt by lack of involvement which could lead to larger financial problems for the community as a whole. To better ward of some of the concerning effects of these types of laws, policymakers may have to begin looking at law enforcement from the viewpoint of affected families, communities and financial costs to the citizens of that state.
Perhaps more research in alternative punishments for lesser severe crimes like probation or parole is justified in these hard financial times. Perhaps putting some additional focus on family support resources rather than building multimillion dollar facilities is in order, or revising some of the tougher laws on less severe crimes. There still is a great need for major deterrence and incapacitation for those individuals that are truly dangerous to others’ safety, wellbeing and security within communities through use of tough laws and longer periods of incarceration. For those less sever crimes, the police and criminal justice leaders should devise some greater crime prevention strategies and put more focus on those things than on the traditional reactionary punishment of offenders. As it stands today, the cost of reevaluation of criminal justice policies is less on the states, communities and individuals affected, as opposed to continuing on the path of the status quo.