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The Cost of Incarceration: Missouri Tells Judges the Price of Sentencing an Individual to Prison

Crime is expensive. The cost of incarcerating individuals is an expense born by society at large. The State of Missouri is advising judges as to the cost of the prison sentences that they hand out.

In Missouri, when a judge is ready to send someone to jail on a criminal charge, he or she now must take into consideration the resulting cost to the State of Missouri. Incarcerating individuals is an expensive proposition. Missouri is now the only state in the country that systematically provides information to all judges with regard to the cost of sentencing the defendants who appear before them to prison time.

Critics of the Missouri system feel that this is an embarrassment for the state. They claim the cost of punishing individuals who have been convicted of crimes should not be a factor taken into consideration by the court. They claim society would be at greater risk if the criminals are not incarcerated and that administering justice is a separate issue from the resulting financial impact on society.

Criminal Justice Is Expensive

America is currently engulfed in an economic crisis. Budgets for court systems have been cut. Politicians are faced with the task of keeping their citizens safe while making the legal system operate smoothly, efficiently and as inexpensively as possible.

The State of Michigan has closed some of its prisons. Arizona is currently considering privatizing its correctional facilities. California, a state in dire financial straights, is investigating all types of ways to reduce the amount of individuals incarcerated within its borders.

The Criminal Justice System In New York

At the present time, the state of New York has significant financial problems. Each year the legislature fails to pass a budget on a timely basis. Governor Patterson threatened to lay off workers because the state cannot afford to pay them.

Query: Should judges handing out criminal sentences for individuals convicted of misdemeanors and felonies take in consideration the cost to New York State for keeping those individuals in jail? Should individuals convicted of nonviolent crimes receive alternative sentences to incarceration?

I personally see no harm in providing a judge with the actual cost of sentencing an individual who appears before him or her. I believe Missouri’s system of providing judges with the cost of the jail terms they hand out to be a good idea. Incarceration of nonviolent offenders for small, petty crimes is a waste of valuable (and extremely limited) resources!

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