WE wrote earlier in the week about how little Oklahoma spends on substance abuse prevention and treatment programs — just $2.30 per every $100 spent for this purpose, according to a recent study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. That placed our state roughly in the middle of all the states. 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., that was studied by the Manhattan Institute. Finding a job is difficult for ex-convicts, and frustrations resulting from those slim job prospects contribute to recidivism. The Montgomery County program uses small rewards and incentives, such as later curfews, in order to help with the transition back into society. Nearly 90 percent of participants find a job within three weeks of their enrollment, and about half of those have the same employer two months after leaving the program. The study’s author notes that this wouldn’t work everywhere. The Montgomery County program, called PRC, is in a large metropolitan area with below-average unemployment rates and reliable public transit. The close monitoring of participants requires high staffing levels, and that costs money. However, the author pointed out, "Expensive as the PRC is, so is standard confinement in a jail or prison.”
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.