Experts know that when you’re able to get out in front of a problem such as substance abuse, it reduces the odds of the abuser winding up incarcerated. That, in turn, saves money because it costs taxpayers far more to keep a person in prison than it does to have that person take part in drug court or other alternatives.
The challenge is in finding policymakers who are willing to try new approaches to age-old (and politically volatile) issues, especially those concerning public safety. And to be sure, that challenge isn’t specific to Oklahoma.
The Pew Center on the States reports that one in every 31 adults in the United States was under some form of correctional supervision at the end of 2007 (in Oklahoma, the figure was one in 42). The center looked at 34 states’ spending on corrections and found that 88 percent of the $21.17 billion used for this purpose in fiscal year 2008 was directed to prisons. The remainder went to probation and parole programs, even though only about one-third of offenders who are under some type of supervision were actually incarcerated.
According to the study, one day in prison costs more than 10 days on parole or 22 days on probation. Finding ways to make parole and probation most effective — and thus keep offenders from returning to prison — is the aim of a prisoner-release program in Montgomery County, Md.