Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Time for Truth in Sentencing Budgets from LBB

I find it fascinating that other states, notably Missouri, are beginning to tell judges the cost to taxpayers of sentences they impose, as described in this blog post from Lauren Brooke Eisen at the Vera Institute.

By contrast, in Texas legislators don't even get honest assessments of the costs of criminal penalties before passing them into law. Our Legislative Budget Board considers nearly all new crimes and criminal penalty "enhancements" to have an "insignificant" cost, no matter how many additional people will be incarcerated, while in Missouri they're actually calculating the cost of each individual prisoner sentenced and giving the judge (and everybody else) that information up front: "The Missouri Sentencing Advisory Commission (MOSAC) now tells judges the cost to the state for their sentencing decisions. Judges, as well as attorneys and probation officers, can enter details into a computer program and receive a printout with sentencing options, the cost to the state for each option, and the likely rate of recidivism (acts that result in new arrests, convictions, or incarceration) for each option."

Of all the reforms one might envision in criminal justice policy, perhaps the most radical change agent imaginable would be simply assigning accurate cost figures to sentences as well as assessments of collateral consequences - both for decisions by policymakers at the Legislature as well as for judges setting sentences (perhaps as part of a presentencing report, as in Missouri).

I'd love to see Texas implement a system to calculate individual sentence costs, as they have in the Show-Me State, but for the time being I'd settle for the Legislative Budget Board acknowledging in their fiscal notes that incarcerating more people costs anything at all!

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

The State knows exactly how much it cost to keep a person behind bars, and don't let them tell that figure it not readliy available. The State prison is a business just like any other, and they know where each and every dollar is spent, or should. The prison system "used " to "MAKE" money, not cost us money.

Years ago the prisoners would raise crops, livestock, chickens, etc. and after feeding all of the prisoners in the state, there was still enough left over to give to the employees who lived on the units.

And after all of this, the prison system still "MADE" a profit.

So don't tell me that the state cannot turn things around and at least break even.
I mean come on....what about the oil and gas revenues from the prison property?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

To be fair, the prison system was a LOT smaller back when it made a "profit," 1:02. We had 22,400 or so prisoners in 1978 and nearly seven times that many today. Prisoners still work ag, but there's not enough property to work for that many unskilled laborers.

As for how much it costs, you're right: We do know, for sure, because for 11%+ of the prison population we lease beds on a per-prisoner-per-day basis from private prisons! When our inmate population dipped recently, we reduced contract beds by 1,900 and saw immediate savings. So clearly the marginal cost of each extra prisoner is the cost of the last private prison bed leased. And if the number of prisoners increases, so does the cost at a totally predictable rate - around $16K per inmate-year, more for those with severe health problems.

Anonymous said...

I really want to see Texas use this system MO has, and I'd also like to get them to honestly assess the cost of new legislation. Could you write up a couple of suitable platform resolutions for the upcoming primaries and post links to them on your site?

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Missouri also tells juries exactly how much time inmates serve on a pen time sentence after you figure parole eligibility, good time credit, etc? That would be nice for juries to know as well.

Anonymous said...

I think that is a great system. Jurors would probably find that very useful when determining sentences. Good time could easily be added in the cost calculations, although 3g offenders do not have good time credit added to their sentence. I think juries often assume sentences end up being much less than reality and come back with harsher sentences, not realizing everyone does not receive good time or work time credits.

Anonymous said...

The real culprit here is the pressure upon the LBB and the state agencies responding to fiscal note requests. There is INTENSE pressure to put zeroes in the fiscal notes so that the bill will not get tagged in Committee and die. In my limited experience, even when agencies provide input on costs--it is all too often overridden by the powers that be.

Anonymous said...

And include inormation on recidivism rates and the cost to society and future victims for reoffending.

Anonymous said...

and Missouri does not elect judges. They operate under the retention system.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

4:26, the MO info to judges does include recidivism rates.

4:08, you nailed it. LBB's public policy reports on criminal justice are IMO quite good and generally pretty neutral, almost as neutral as HRO reports. But the fiscal note process is utterly politicized - not partisan, mind you, but intensely political.

bill said...

to address the comment of "unskilled labor" in the Texas prison system....what a joke send them back out in the fields with an "aggie" a large hoe type device and make them work the fields like they used to...bust thier asses for min 8 hr days and wear them out....prison is not supposed to be nice raise crops for system to feed itself not line pockets of old TDC people and families that got the contracts to supply food and drinks