By Keli Macintosh
“Prevention is so much better than healing because it saves the labor of being sick.” This is from Thomas Adams, a 17th century physician.
It is a well-known fact that preventive healthcare is much more cost effective than chronic care. I believe the same principle can be used in the judicial systems of our country.
According to the Prison Policy Initiative, Michigan’s incarceration rates stand out internationally. Rates of imprisonment have grown dramatically in the last 40 years. Michigan’s pretrial population has more than tripled since the late 1970s.
At the moment, Grand Traverse County has one of the highest incarceration rates in the state; and the rate of recidivism is also one of the highest. Personally, I don’t feel Grand Traverse County is a criminally-infested community. So, why are we sending so many of our citizens off to jail or prison?
An over-zealous prosecution system is part of the problem. The other is a lack of community support for at-risk people.
Disproportional bond requirements and horizontal/vertical overcharging of suspects has resulted in more plea deals and less trials. Only three days in jail is known to impact a person’s life. Many innocent people are held in jail where they have no choice but to plea.
The prosecuting attorney tells us there is not enough funding to provide alternative options. Years ago, mental patients were housed in the state mental hospital and were under the care of trained staff and physicians. That treatment was considered inappropriate so the patients were moved out under the care of the community. Shortly after that, the funding for community mental health services was cut and the number of treatment beds plummeted. So now, instead of being confined in the state mental hospital, these people are held in jail with untrained (and often unsympathetic) law enforcement officers supervising their lives.
Recent cuts in education funding have left many young people unprepared to support themselves after graduating from high school. There are few opportunities in our area to learn a trade, and even fewer jobs that pay a living wage. Low income people don’t stand a chance in our current judicial system.
Wouldn’t you prefer your tax money be spent to provide a good education, job training, and guarantee food and housing for those at risk in our community, making it possible for them to become productive members of society? That is a much better plan than paying to keep people incarcerated for years; it would be much more cost efficient.
Preventive justice seems like a much healthier societal option than incarceration because ...
The “because” should be obvious.
The ACLU’s Smart Justice Campaign is looking into addressing these concerns.
Gov. Whitmer recently appointed a new Joint Task Force on jail and pretrial incarceration to investigate why Michigan’s county jail population has tripled over the past 50 years while actual crime rates have plummeted. One reason is people with mental illness and substance abuse are not receiving adequate treatment.
About the author: Keli MacIntosh, of Traverse City, is a member of the ACLU Smart Justice Campaign and a retired registered nurse.
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