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Lawmakers Urged to Evaluate Cost-Benefits of Prison

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Missouri’s lawmakers are being urged to look at whether the money spent to imprison thousands of people makes the state less dangerous.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Missouri’s lawmakers are being urged to look at whether the money spent to imprison thousands of people makes the state less dangerous. 

Next year is a crucial year for those modernizing Missouri’s criminal laws.  It’s the third year for discussion of the first overhaul in more than 35 years.   But with crime goes punishment, and lawyer Stephen Hanlon says a lot of imprisonment fails cost-benefit analysis.  

Hanlon, who teaches at the prestigious Georgetown Law School, is a Missouri native who has focused on prison litigation for 20 of the 47 years he’s been a lawyer.  He tells legislators considering recodification of the criminal code they need to ask if imprisonment is worth its cost, “particularly in these lower-level nonviolent misdemeanors that do not involved public safety issues, and the question is whether…the threat of prison is the best way to change that behavior.”

Hanlon has told the Senate Judiciary Committee his favorite Missouri crime is fishing with illegal bait, which can land somebody in prison. He says that’s an example of a crime that is not worth spending $23,000 a year to house someone as a prison inmate.

He says there’s a growing list of evidence-based reforms that will lower the prison population without increasing the crime rate or recidivism rates.

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