Tuesday, March 27, 2012

‘Swift and certain’ punishment would prevent crime, save taxpayer dollars

A new reform could save taxpayer money while doing a better job of preventing crime.

The success of “swift and certain” punishment in other states, and a Seattle pilot project involving released convicts under state supervision, convinced lawmakers to propose making Washington state the first in the nation to try it statewide with 16,000 released convicts under state supervision.

As this Associate Press story explains, ex-cons can face slow and uncertain punishment under today’s system. If they fail a drug test or otherwise violate their terms of release, the consequences range from a verbal reprimand to 60 days in jail.

While the current system is more expensive and can involve longer jail sentences, the experience of other states and the Seattle pilot program shows that swift and certain punishment works better.

Photo credit: Biswarup Ganguly

Any violation – from skipping a meeting with a corrections officer to flunking a drug test – gets a quick jail sentence of up to three days. More serious offenses can bring up to 30 days.

Switching to “swift and certain” punishment could keep ex-cons on the straight and narrow while saving taxpayers $15 million each year.

The idea started in a Hawaii courtroom when Judge Steven Alm got upset at watching ex-cons come to his courtroom only after they’d committed violation after violation. As a former prosecutor, he wanted to know why they weren’t coming to his courtroom on the first offense.

Probation officers told Judge Alm that each violation made officers choose between doing nothing and having an ex-con jailed for weeks – or months.
Judge Alm then started his “swift and certain” campaign, giving every violation, however minor, a short jail sentence. Ex-cons in the new HOPE (Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement) regime responded with an 80 percent drop in positive drug tests. The rate of re-arrests for new crimes also went down.
“Swift and certain” worked in Hawaii, and then Alaska, Arizona and the Seattle pilot project.

As Judge Alm told the Associated Press, “When you don’t have any consequences for failure, you’re going to get more failure. With HOPE, it’s swift, certain and proportionate.”
The legislation is Senate Bill 6204, which passed the Senate 45-2 and passed the House Ways and Committee before the start of special session.

To read the full AP story, click here.

To read this post in Spanish, click here.