Sunday, January 24, 2010

Correction: Long term estimates support multi-billion savings from prison diversion

I'd suggested the other morning that a national study (pdf) by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency overstated potential cost savings to Texas from implementing alternatives to incarceration. I forwarded the post to them, and they responded in the comments that their methodology included savings from future costs over the length of what would have been their sentence. In other words, I was focused on short-term savings and their estimate covered the out-years beyond the biennial budget. My bad; their math was good. Here's their response:
Thanks for your comment regarding our newest publication. We hoped that it would generate discussion on the topic.

There are many factors to consider in a cost analysis. We believe that we have put forth the most accurate report possible within the limits of the available data, and we appreciate the chance to respond to any comments.

The 2009 budget for TDCJ was $2.9 billion. However, this is an annual operating budget and not directly relevant to our calculation. Our calculation of $2.8 billion is not based on a single year but rather, on the cost of incarcerating an individual for an entire sentence. In Texas, the average nonserious offender is behind bars for approximately four years.

Specifically, our figure was derived by multiplying the number of nonserious offenders by the annual cost per capita times the average number of years served. According to the National Corrections Reporting Program, the average prison time served in Texas for nonserious drug offenders is 48.6 months and for other nonserious offenders is 38.4 months. Thus the weighted average cost of incarcerating nonserious offenders is 3.9 years per inmate. This times $17,400 per year is $69,405 per inmate. This is the key difference between your calculation and our report. We then multiply that total cost per inmate by 80% of nonserious offenders (or 40,821) and arrive at $2.8 billion.

Annual savings could be derived similarly by using new admissions to prison instead of the sitting population. We estimate that an annual cost savings would be roughly 1/3 of the one-time savings. This is another valid way to look at the issue. There is ample detail on our methods on pages 4 and 5 of the report, and in each state section.

The costs for alternatives come from reports by the Texas Criminal Justice Policy Council and the Texas Legislative Budget Board. They represent costs of the programs that are run in Texas, adjusted for 2009.

We are glad that we agree on the importance of helping policymakers and the public understand that large numbers of inmates can be effectively sentenced to alternatives, saving tax-payer money and still protecting public safety.
My apologies for the error.

Unfortunately, state budgetmakers (and my initial, erroneous post) look at savings in terms of short-term, two-year increments, which is one reason why it was remarkable that Texas made its 2007 and 2009 investments in prison diversion programming. While long-term numbers clearly support prison diversion, in the first biennium it was proposed, to budgeters diversion looked like an "extra" - something they could justify mainly because key committee chairman assured them it would let them avoid spending billions on new prisons (which turned out to be accurate).

Now a few years out, we can see that Texas' incarceration rates have dropped, that crime has not increased as a result, and that the number of Texas prisoners is actually dropping whereas earlier we were projected to need 17,000 more beds by 2012. But as these remarks point out, those investments pay off over a longer term than just the initial biennium.

Expanding on those investments, as NCCD advocates, represents the best path forward toward further reducing incarceration rates and actually beginning discussions in earnest about closing prisons and significantly reducing the number of prisoners.


Anonymous said...

Elite opinion finally being questioned?

A recent and much discussed article by David Brooks (in NY Times) exposed the view that popular opinion is turning against those of the “educated class” in ever growing number of areas.

Recent data from their survey of 2000 American adults shows that an overwhelming majority of American adults (74%) believes that there is “too much political correctness" in the positions of the elite who try to steer public opinion.

The majority believes that a single opinion dominates and that their opinions are discounted and not respected.

We will see how fast Grits deletes this (to prove the point of the survey).

Anonymous said...

Alternative programs and treatments are a good start to decreasing the prison population. But we can implement all the programs we want and they won't make a bit of difference unless those programs are actually used for non-violent offenders in conjunction with other major changes in the system. For starters, the introduction of common sense.

I recently read and “interesting” bit on a case.

Granted, this is one case. But the stupidity and double standard of the mindset of the DA who wants to incarcerate the girl who is the victim in this case is beyond belief. Can the only options the State can come up with really be either prison or a juvenile facility for a 13 year old who under the law cannot give consent?

One of the more bizarre points is how does prostitution, taking money for sex, nullify the states contention that a person that age cannot give consent? If they are going to imprison countless men, both young and old for sex with “consenting” teens on the basis that consent cannot be given because of their age, how do they justify allowing her pimp and clients a walk while jailing her? And prison! Prison as a way of rehabilitating the victim! What planet does this DA get his thinking from?

Either as the law states, this girl is unable to give consent and is the victim and as such should not be prosecuted, but supplied with the treatment and therapy she needs to change her life in a non prison setting or the age of consent laws should be declared invalid. That in itself would greatly reduce the prison population rate in Texas. I won't go into the question of what makes an 11 year old run from CPS and foster care, but it is a question that needs an answer along with what efforts were made to find her before she found herself in the situation that brought her to where she is now. As long as we have DA's like this one, who cannot see beyond prison as the only solution for every problem and are not willing to look at alternatives to prison, even if forced by new policies I don't foresee much change in the way Texas does business. One wonders why this DA is fighting to bring charges against her while not questioning the circumstances that put her in this situation or the very real question of why the police have not arrested her pimp. Surely that would be a very well justified arrest and set of charges.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

9:34, the only reason I'd delete your comment is that it's off topic and irrelevant. Try trolling on point if you don't want your comments deleted.

As for the red herring you tossed out: No one is here reading Grits who doesn't choose to come here of their own accord. If anyone dislikes what they read here, for whatever reason, they should simply go somewhere else. Including you.

Hook Em Horns said...

Of course diversion will save money. The only people who belong in prison are those who pose a continued threat to society or those who absolutely refuse to live by the rules. Everyone else, EVERYONE, belongs in diversion and/or some type of rehab program.

Anonymous said...

Boyness, you comments are so right on! There are so many people incarcerated who are first offenders or made a mistake with the wrong person and the DA, only wanting to win a case, can make so many lies appear to be the truth.

Thank you for saying what I believe to be the truth. Also, after reading this mornings news paper, I read that Gov. Perry is hiring people with a criminal record, even a felony to work on his campaign. I am not sure how to interpret this bit of news. Gov. Perry does not let anyone have a pardon or so very few and is this just a polictical ploy? Even if this is just a ploy, maybe this will indeed help those who in Texas are not able to find work due to something on whether the truth is printed there are not and generally the person who keys in the information
could care less what key they hit and this hurts many people when trying to find a job.

I feel PublicData should be done away with!!! Give those who have made mistakes a chance to get their lives back and Texas Legislators, follow the law and remove Deferred Adjudacations from a persons record after the requirements have been met, these are not convictions and tend to keep very qualified people from obtaining jobs!!!