How about the fact that it costs $104 to keep a woman in prison each day here in the Treasure State?
Oh, and our juveniles? They cost $333 to $481 a day.
Why does it cost this much, and what can be done about it?
Falling in Love Can Hurt
Right now the judges are trying to figure out how much time to give her behind bars, and one of the serious options is for life.
Let’s break out our calculators, shall we?
Since it costs $104 a day to keep Graham in prison, that comes to $3,120 a month, or $37,440 a year. I don’t know about you, but I don’t make anywhere close to that in wages each year.
Now, Graham is just 22-years old. I’d expect her to live at least another fifty years, and possibly longer since she’ll have a pretty safe and healthy life in prison (universal health care there, remember?).
So if Graham does get life that means the cost for the next fifty years to the taxpayers of Montana will be $1,738,500. And that’s if she dies at 72.
Sure, the feds could pick up some of that tab, and I guess you could argue that the local economies where these prisons are located are dependent upon that money, but golly, am I the only one that sees a problem here?
Arguing Over Money…Again
But that’s Montana politics for you. And one of the reasons they were banging on those desks? Money.
Yeah, there’s just never enough to go around, is there? One thing that didn’t get funded as much as people may have wanted were prisons.
So how much do we give the Department of Corrections each year in Montana? Well, in 2012 we gave them $177.4 million in the budget. That went mainly to take care of the 13,000 men and women we have in prisons, as well as the 130 juvenile offenders we’ve got.
In total the prisons ate up 9.2% of our general fund budget for both 2012 and 2013.
Why Are People in Montana Getting Locked-Up?
What does this tell me? We need to invest in our mental health system here. Right now the only mental health system we have in the state is prison, and that’s no help at all. After all, 39.9% of our men, 34.4% of our women, and 28% of our juveniles return to prison once they’re released.
I can’t help but think if they had better programs and services both inside and outside those prison walls the chances of them coming back or going there in the first place would drop significantly.
So what are the alternatives to prison? Not much, take a look at this chart:
But remember that recidivism rate of about 39% that we’ve also got? I take it parole isn’t working too well. Sure, 60% ain’t bad, but ask anyone at UM if they want that score on their next exam.
Do the Crime, Do the Time
I wish we could see a breakdown of what drugs they’re in for, but I can’t seem to find that. What’s clear is that prison is not a place for those folks, unless we want them to go from an Associate Degree in petty crime to a Doctorate in serious crime.
Because that’s all prisons do – make people into better criminals with more social and underworld connections. And you’re paying for that education whether you want to or not. Those kids taking classes at the university? Not so much.
By far the largest number of people in prisons in Montana are white, but we’ve got a sizeable Indian population as well:
You’ll also see that we’re spending but $3 million a year on mental health in our prisons, and just $1 million on chemical dependency issues. But to keep everyone locked up? That was $281 million over four years.
Folks, this is a joke. A large part of the reason so many people are returning to prison after being there is because we’re not giving them the help they need while they’re there. Do you think they’re going to come asking for it when they get out, even pay for it? If you think that you need to get your own head checked.
So what can be done about this? Here are my three proposals to get things under control:
- Stop locking-up non-violent drug offenders right away;
- Release all the non-violent drug offenders that are in prison now;
- Use that money to increase spending on mental health and chemical dependency.
Those are three simple things that could be done now. Will they? I doubt it. And that’s why we’ll continue to see the same problems over and over again and why you’ll continue to pay $37,440 a year to keep people like Jordan Graham in prison each year.