Monday, September 20, 2010

Some judges now weigh prison costs
when considering sentencing options

by Tom Nadeau

Missouri judges now have a unique sentencing tool that computes the comparative costs of various sentencing choices at their disposal, the New York Times reports.

They can now more easily weigh that factor in on judgment and sentencing day.

Prosecutors prefer ignorance ...

Missouri is the first state to make such a tool available to judges. The NYT provides an example:
For someone convicted of endangering the welfare of a child, for instance, a judge might now learn that a three-year prison sentence would run more than $37,000 while probation would cost $6,770. A second-degree robber, a judge could be told, would carry a price tag of less than $9,000 for five years of intensive probation, but more than $50,000 for a comparable prison sentence and parole afterward. The bill for a murderer’s 30-year prison term: $504,690.

Legal experts say no other state systematically provides such information to judges, a practice put into effect here last month by the state’s sentencing advisory commission, an appointed board that offers guidance on criminal sentencing.
If they can manipulate the special sentencing algorithm developed for the judges, interested citizens can figure it out for themselves.

California has no such tool, but ought to get one and fast. For one thing, the cost of housing a state prisoner is considerably higher in California than it is in Missouri.

Then, ordinary taxpayers could easily find out just how much all that barroom braggadocio about being "tough on crime" is really costing them.

Of course, as the Times story points out, prosecutors in states other than Missouri would prefer not to make that information generally available. It might cut down on their courthouse swagger and vote-getting campaign claims.


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