From The Tennessean

Cons commit crimes after early release

Sentencing guidelines enable repeat offenders

A college student is kidnapped, brutalized and murdered. A mother looks up from changing her baby’s diaper to find a gun pointing in her face. A 62-year-old man is bludgeoned with a baseball bat in a mall parking lot.

The crimes share one trait, aside from their brutality. In each case, the person charged with the offense was an ex-convict, out on probation or parole — a situation Tennessee prosecutors and law enforcement leaders say is all too common because of how the state sentences its convicted criminals. . . .

Amanda Sue Kelley, 19, was arrested seven times last year on charges that ranged from drug possession to domestic assault and theft. In January, police say, she wrenched open the door of a parked car, pointed a gun at a woman changing her 13-month-old daughter’s diaper in the back seat, and demanded cash. . . .

It costs about $63.90 a day to keep someone behind bars in Tennessee. A day monitoring someone’s probation or parole costs $2.95.

“We really need to do a better job of sorting our offenders by risk,” said Adam Gelb, director of the Pew Center on the States’ Public Safety Performance Project. “This is less and less an issue of being tough on crime or soft on crime and more an issue of giving the taxpayers a better return on their dollars.” 

The Pew Center study, “One in One Hundred,” has attracted a lot of attention — but less obvious is the Center’s ideological anti-incarceration bias.  The Center did not include what is known as the “Aggregate Burden of Crime” in its analysis of the price of incarceration versus the price of community sentencing.  The aggregate burden of crime, which measures the total economic effect of crime on victims, communities and the offender, offers a picture of the real cost of incarcerating convicts versus letting them go free — not a one-line argument comparing the day-to-day cost of probation to the day-to-day cost of incarceration.

There is no excuse for excluding the other costs that inevitably arise when people who should be in prison commit additional crimes — unless the study is simply designed to sway public opinion towards letting convicts back on the streets.  

In 1996, the Department of Justice issued a far more comprehensive, less ideological study called “Victim Costs and Consequences: A New Look”  which placed the cost of crime for victims at $450 billion dollars per year.  And in 1999, Professor David A. Anderson published another study, titled “The Aggregate Burden of Crime,” which placed the annual cost of crime at 1.7 trillion dollars a year.  Here is a description of his study:

Anderson takes into account all costs which would not exist in an ideal society totally free of crime. That includes the cost of private preventative measures such as locks, safety lighting, alarm systems, fencing and private security guards. In addition it calculates the cost of crime-related injuries and deaths, including medical care, lost workdays, pain, and fear, and the opportunity costs of time spent preventing, carrying out and serving prison terms for criminal activity. Finally, it mentions a $28 billion decrease in property values of real estate and buildings that are cheaper than similar facilities because they are located in high-crime areas. The costs associated with living in the suburbs to avoid crime in the city center are also discussed, since there are significant costs for activities such as commuting and parking. 

If the Pew Center had really intended to quantify the difference in cost between incarcerating offenders and releasing them to the community, they would have had to first figure out the number of crimes committed each year by offenders who could have been sentenced to prison, or kept there without parole, but who were instead released to commit more crime.  Then they would have had to plug in the price of this additional victimization.  Absent that, they are operating on the assumption that no parolees or probationers ever commit crimes.  

Victim and community expenses appear nowhere in the Pew Center report.  When you focus narrowly on the price differential between daily incarceration expenses and parole/community control expenses, you are intentionally excluding the bulk of expenses born by innocent people — victims, bystanders, and neighborhoods — who have been impacted by illegal activities.  That’s not just bad public policy: it’s dishonest public policy.

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