Get Out of Jail Free

Facing budgetary pressures, states are looking to save money by letting some folks out of jail early. One can only have mixed feelings about this sort of development. We do over-imprison people in the United States, so from a humanitarian point of view this is nice to see. On the other hand, it’s also true that the crime rate in the United States remains at what I’d consider an unacceptably high level and there are some indications that it’s on the rise again.

Much better than simply letting people out of jail to save money would be a more focused effort to switch our anti-crime priorities away from such a heavy reliance on incarceration and toward more cost-effective methods. Drug treatment programs that work are great, but not just anything called a drug treatment program actually works. Coerced abstinence (PDF) seems promising, as does simply hiring more police officers. It also wouldn’t hurt to see more states and localities trying harder to identify and implement “best practices” from elsewhere on the policing front since some jurisdictions have much more success than others at successfully preventing crime. One could imagine a valuable federal role here beyond the money provided by something like a revived COPS program.