Sep 15, 2010

Considering the Cost of Justice in Missouri

Yesterday, a St. Louis Newspaper reported on Missouri's new approach to reduce the costs associated with sentencing in an article called, "Missouri's Judges Get Penalty Cost Before Sentencing." The practice includes providing judges with individualized data regarding how much a proposed sentence will cost the state and an analysis of the likelihood that the individual will reoffend if allowed to remain the community.  Missouri is reported to be the first state to distribute an invoice on a case-by-case basis to a judge prior to sentencing. However, Greg Hurley of the National Center for State Courts says, that his organization is "seeing a trend where judges are asking for more evidence about best practices. They are looking at an offender's track record and other predictive data that may show which treatments or programs may work best to cut down on recidivism." 

One critic of the practice argues that, "Justice doesn't come down to dollars and cents...[I]t has no purpose in the purpose of balancing justice" However, what is appealing about offering a judge this information from a reentry perspective is that it highlights the existence of more economical and more effective alternatives to incarceration for judges. If an individual is assessed to be at a low risk to public safety and more likely to benefit from a non-jail alternative, why chose incarceration? (Especially, when dollars saved from jail or prison sentences can be reinvested in high impact communities, disrupting the cycle of criminal activity that stems from poor educational attainment and lack of job opportunities.) As a society, we often must chose between the desire for retribution and the need to reduce recidivism and improve public safety. We must also rethink the compatibility of incarceration with the concept of "justice," especially when talking about individuals who are non-violent and often struggling with a drug addiction.