10 October 2016

Swift, Certain and Mild Incarceration Works Better Than Harsh Sentences

A punishment doesn't have to be particularly stiff to change behavior if it can be applied swiftly and consistently.
[Washington] state had traditionally imposed jail sentences of 30, 60, 90 or 120 days for supervised offenders who violated the conditions of their probation or parole (e.g., had a positive drug test). The policy was fiscally costly and also resulted in inconsistent responses to the same violation. According to Professor Zachary Hamilton at the Washington State Institute for Criminal Justice, “If the local jail didn’t have room to take someone for 30 or 60 or 90 days, offenders got away with things they shouldn’t have. If the jail was empty, offenders might serve 30 or 60 or 90 days for a minor violation.” Not only was this policy unfair, but it also gave offenders no consistent incentive to change problematic behavior. 
Seeking a less expensive, more effective system, the state fundamentally reoriented its strategy. Punishments for violations were made much less severe, most commonly a “flash incarceration” of up to three days. Unlike the prior penalties, such short jail stays could be administered swiftly and certainly throughout the state. . . . 
In a 12-month study of over 9,000 supervised offenders, Hamilton and his colleagues found that supervision using swift, certain but modest punishments produced a significant decrease in the likelihood of offenders being convicted of a new crime. And not only were new convictions less common, but they were also less serious, enabling the swift and certain approach to produce a stunning 84 percent drop in the odds of a supervised offender being sent to prison. Because of the savings this produced, swift and certain supervision was less expensive to operate than the traditional model, allowing expansion of mental-health and addiction-treatment services for those offenders who needed them.
From here.

This is a model that states like Colorado would do well to emulate.

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