Incarceration Rates High in U.S.

The White House recently released a study that suggests the mass incarceration that occurs in the U.S. is not having its intended effect.  While the U.S. population accounts for about 5% of the world population, the American inmate population accounts for about 25% of the total worldwide inmate population.  Recognition of this fact, coupled with the cost of incarceration, has led to some legislative changes either directly or indirectly.

For example, in Colorado, there are situations in which a person charged with a crime, who has either pled guilty or been convicted at trial, must submit to a pre sentence investigation evaluation.  The purpose of this evaluation is to provide the judge with information to assist the judge in deciding the sentence to be imposed.  Included in the evaluation is information about the cost, meaning the cost to the government, for each sentence.  Probation is the cheapest while prison is the most expensive.  Presumably, if this is included in the evaluation, the legislature has decided a judge should take this into account when imposing sentence.

Another example of the law’s recognition of the cost of incarceration may have been reflected in the new felony DUI law.  There is no mandatory prison or jail time for a felony DUI (unlike a misdemeanor DUI charge, which can carry mandatory jail time depending on the circumstances).  In order for a judge to sentence a person convicted of a felony DUI, the judge must make a determination that treatment remedies have been exhausted.  There is an argument that if a person has multiple prior DUI’s or DWAI’s and have picked up another, then the previous treatment did not work, so all treatment options have been exhausted.  Nonetheless, the law gives the court discretion to impose probation rather than jail or prison.

Some jurisdictions have established specialty courts, which are geared towards rehabilitation rather than punitive sanctions.  For example, Denver has a drug court and a sobriety court.  Arapahoe County has a veteran’s court and a mental health court.  Even the jails have created programs to provide people with treatment while they are in jail and if they participate in the programs, their jail sentences are often shortened.  For example, Arapahoe County and Douglas County have DUI multiple offender programs and Jefferson County has the inmate/outmate program.