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Prisons Cost More Than Harvard

A recent William Raspberry article on alternatives to imprisonment pointed out the folly of continuing to waste tax dollars on a system (imprisonment) that is ineffective, does not deter crime, and could inadvertently provide impetus to a problem that is already epidemic.

Raspberry's position is that increased imprisonment will inevitably do more to exacerbate this nation's crime problems than to provide solutions with long term remedial value. Paraphrasing Andrew Rutherford, a noted British criminologist, Raspberry points to the experience of Europe, "particularly Germany and England, where the prison population has declined with no discernible increase in criminality." West Germany's prison population peaked in 1983, with 62,300 inmates and steadily declined thereafter. Today their prison population numbers about 51,000. The same phenomenon has taken place in Great Britain which has had an eight percent decrease in prison population since 1988.

The British criminologist Rutherford says the European decrease has taken place in both countries without the invention of new alternatives. He emphasizes that prosecutors and courts in Europe have begun to view imprisonment as more of a problem than a solution. "They have concluded," he says, "that the criminal justice process can have damaging and self-defeating effects and that every effort should be made to keep people away from the courts and, particularly prison."

Raspberry said that American policy makers know Rutherford is right. He points out that room, board, and tuition at a prestigious institute such as Harvard cost just over $18,000 annually, while the average cost of incarcerating a person for the same period costs well above $29,000.

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