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Non-Violent Offenders: Waste of Space? (Prison Overcrowding)

Updated on March 14, 2012

Non- Violent Offenders

Non-Violent Offenders:Waste of space?



Non-violent offenders that are addicts should not be jailed; they should be given rehabilitation and therapy. By offering an alternative to incarceration, taxpayers’ and government money as well as valuable prison space will be saved. Offenders will be returned to society as productive citizens after retraining their thought processes, allowing for more contribution to the greater good. Based on research conducted in 2011, this issue is still prevalent everywhere in America, though many states have implemented programs to avert drug addicts with non-violent offenses from prisons. This is a hot button issue and many politicians use it as a campaign debate point. There are diverse psychological implications with being imprisoned, and while in prison offenders that should have gotten rehabilitation may even find out about new ways to do crimes and become better criminals instead of being returned to society in a community service and productive role.

Non-Violent Offenders

With so much overcrowding and diverse financial implications, it has become painfully obvious that non-violent offenders should not be incarcerated; instead they should be offered alternatives to incarceration. This essay will discuss the benefits of offering another option to offenders who have not committed a violent offense. Rehabilitation has been proven to be an effective alternative when offered to non violent offenders who are usually addicts. By incarcerating people who are not a threat to others and have not committed a violent crime we are simply wasting valuable space in prisons that could be better appropriated to house violent offenders such as murderers and rapists. In addition to wasting space, every state that continues to jail non violent offenders is wasting money. They are wasting money not only for salaries of correctional facility employees but also on housing and feeding these inmates. To illustrate this point, a discussion about the benefits of deferring incarceration is required, beginning with the financial implications of imprisoning non violent offenders.

The amount of money it takes to keep a person imprisoned for one year is astounding. The average cost to house an inmate in California over one year is $47,102. (Legislative analyst’s office California, 2010) In Wisconsin that number is $31,806, much closer to the national average. (National institute of corrections, 2008) Think of all the money that could be saved by referring non violent offenders to rehabilitation instead of putting them in jail! Spending deficits are rampant in prison systems, and they are reconciled against the taxpayer’s pockets.

Even with all the spending done each year on inmates, they are just as likely to commit a crime when they get out. According to a bureau of justice statistics report “Within 3 years of their release from prison, about 7 in 10 nonviolent releasees were rearrested for a new crime; nearly half were reconvicted; and more than a quarter were returned to prison.” Nay-Sayers will argue that the offender committed a crime and should have their freedom taken as restitution for the misdeed. There is validity in that argument however; case after case has proven that jail time is not a sufficient deterrent for many offenders, especially those with addictions.

Nearly everyone can see this in daily news programs. How many times do convicted criminals commit another crime and end up on the news? Each day brings more of the same, criminals get out of prison or jail and go right back to the same lifestyle that got them in trouble in the first place. Sometimes, it is their environmental surroundings at home that cause this behavior. Maybe they come from a long line of alcoholics, or addicts, they could possibly be homeless and by committing a crime they are ensuring that they have three meals a day and somewhere to sleep at night. Whatever the motivation or reasoning behind the crime, it is clear that a lifestyle change and thought process remapping needs to occur.

Left untreated the person will always be prone to committing crimes, and nothing short of a life sentence or intensive therapy will stop the behavior. These criminals are acting in this manner to feed their addictions and most of the time the addiction is so severe they can’t see an alternative way of living. The addiction runs their life and they must fuel it by any means necessary, even if it means risking their freedom. This ties in with the next point; rehabilitation is more effective than prison, as most non violent offenders are drug addicts or alcoholics.

According to a Department of justice bureau of statistics report (2004), almost 66% of nonviolent offenders released from state prisons self reported drug use in the 30 days prior to committing their crime. Roughly 40% of criminals reported being under the influence at the time the committed the act. With that being said, a clear problem is manifested, a good percentage of inmates are addicts and need to be treated for their addictions. Many states are now offering drug treatment to first time offenders, and with positive results.

For example, in Dane county, Wisconsin, there is a drug court treatment program that has a 70% completion rate, and 70% of those people who completed the program were not rearrested. (Wisconsin Courts Criminal justice report, 2005) The national completion rate is about 46% according to the report, which isn’t astounding, however it is a sign that these programs do work and can be implemented. In Dane County’s program, there are tiers of treatment the offender must complete to have their charges dropped to less serious offenses or dismissed completely.

In the first segment the offender must attend court every other week, check in with a correctional facilitator five times a week and have weekly meetings with their case manager. On top of all those imposed requirements the offender must call in every morning to see if their assigned color is called. If the offender’s color is called they must go to a designated collection site and provide a blood alcohol concentration test as well as a urine sample for analysis. If either test comes back positive the offender is sanctioned with jail time in increasing amounts for repeat offenders, with the final sanction being expulsion from the program. If the offender is terminated from the program they still face the original charges and will go straight to sentencing, as the terms for entering the program involve waiving their right to trial. As the phases progress, the offender must seek mental health treatment from an outside provider and comply with any medical treatments said provider imposes.

The number of check ins drops from five in phase one to three per week in phase two, and twice a week in phase three. The weekly meetings with a case manager change to a biweekly frequency upon entering phase three, and the court sessions that must be attended drop from weekly to biweekly, then to every three weeks, and for people in the last phase, attendance at the judicial proceedings is only required once monthly. Other portions of the program may assist with housing, child related issues and employment help. If inpatient treatment is recommended, then it becomes court ordered. This program has proven effective and is relatively inexpensive in comparison to incarceration.

The daily cost of this drug treatment court is about $17.78 per individual, whereas a day in jail runs about $60.41 per inmate. The cost of treatment is only about one third of the cost to keep a person incarcerated, which represent a huge cost savings to the corrections system and in turn is passed on to tax payers. By referring offenders to treatment instead of housing them in prisons and jails, frees up space. Obviously offenders in treatment do not take up space that could be used for violent offenders, which is the next point that deserves quite a bit of attention.

Overcrowding is no new phenomenon. Since the 1980 inmate populations have grown exponentially, costs have grown right along with this increase. In 1980 there were about 319,000 inmates in prisons nationwide and by 2009 that number had risen to 1,524,513. (DOJ Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2009) Overcrowding presents many problems, including the need for additional staff to manage numbers of prisoners and even that staff being assigned too great a number of inmates to police effectively. Another issue that presents itself is that funding has not kept up with the growth of inmates, causing a drop in services available to inmates and resulting in lower quality of life for inmates.

The overcrowding can have psychological implications as well, lowering morale and causing more violence within the prison system by prisoners plagued by unrest. Imagine if initially there were two inmates per cell and then due to overcrowding there are suddenly four or eight people in a cell designed for two. The close quarters breed contempt because personal space is not maintained. This can be very stressful and we all know stress can lead to high blood pressure which, down the road, can cause other complications. Overcrowding also leads to the inmates being forced to be more socially interactive as the number of people in a designated space increases, and social faux pas can lead to death in certain situations. (Professor Craig Haney,, 2008)

For instance, if an Aryan inmate is placed with an inmate of African American descent the results could be disastrous, possibly even deadly. Wouldn’t it be a shame if someone incarcerated on drug charges was killed by another inmate, when the whole situation could have been avoided with an alternative sentence? Think of how bad the judge and jurors would feel, and think of the families that are left behind from tragedies such as these that could have been prevented with more appropriate sentencing. With all these issues in mind, it’s hard not to side with sending non violent offenders to rehabilitation instead of prison.

In conclusion, by offering alternatives to incarceration, the justice system is essentially saving lives. The evidence is clearly in favor of addicts getting treatment and not jail time. By not sending the offender to jail, they can stay with their family, keep their job and even continue their education. As part of treatment many offenders are required to do community service in the area where the crime was committed, thereby offering labor as restitution. Rehabilitation is a cost effective, space saving alternative and should be implemented in every state level court to help curb overcrowding and reconcile the budgets deficits that are so rampant in America’s correctional system.


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    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 

      5 years ago from North Texas

      Have to say that I agree with Aunt Jimi. Voted up and interesting from me too.

    • Aunt Jimi profile image

      Aunt Jimi 

      5 years ago from The reddest of the Red states!

      Agree that nonviolent offenders, whether it's a drug use crime or some other that doesn't involve a weapon or violence should not include jail time. Very expensive in so many ways, not just the cost of incarceration, but if they have a family, what will be the effect on them? Will public assistance be needed? Will counseling be needed because mom or dad isn't in the home? things are rarely as simple as a lot of people would like to believe they are.

      Voted up and interesting!

    • profile image


      5 years ago



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