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Monday, March 11, 2013

Criminal Justice and the Modern World

It costs the state of New Jersey more to incarcerate a low level, non-violent criminal offender than it would cost them to send him to Princeton.

Such a fact can't help but give one pause to reflect upon our justice system and contemplate ways to appropriately punish offenders while not bogging down public budgets by feeding and housing low level offenders.

Such thoughts have occurred to the brain trust at the Deloitte Corporation who this week presented a fascinating alternative to incarceration for low level, non violent offenders. It involves the use of smart phone technology to create a "virtual incarceration" where offenders would be monitored by authorities but allowed to remain in society. Such phones would be equipped with applications that track an offenders job status, his general whereabouts and daily habits. An analytical computer program would allow judges to determine risk factors and sentencing guidelines and help them to determine which activities to monitor.

For example, a drug offender might be required to use an app that determines intoxication or drug use by the movements of the eyes, as read through the phone's camera. The offender could also connect with his or her probation officer via iPhone's Face Time app, thus saving time and expense of travel and allowing the offender to maintain a job without the interruption of regular visits to some far off office.

This seems like a brilliant plan to me on all sorts of levels. First, it would surely lower recidivism rates. Statistics show that a person who is removed from society and placed in prison is considerably more likely to offend again. And why not? The barriers that society places in front of persons who have erred in the past are tremendous. Most people with past convictions find it at best difficult to find employment and even more difficult to find adequate housing. If you've been convicted of a sex offense, regardless of the circumstances, the burden of registration and the easy availability of your address, workplace and car licence makes any kind of successful re-entry into society nearly impossible. Very few people who have sex related offenses on their records have the emotional and psychological stamina to face down the myriad obstacles that are thrown in their paths.

By allowing persons who are convicted of non violent crimes and that are deemed unlikely to offend again to remain in their homes, with their families and in their jobs seems to be a much better recipe for success in reducing crime and the expense of punishment. Of course we should also be discussing the nature of what constitutes a crime in this country, particularly as it relates to drug use, and the disproportionate way in which sentences are handed out according to race and socioeconomic status. But that's a story for another day.

Meanwhile, Deloitte seems to have come up with an innovative and cost effective plan to reduce the number of people currently held in jails and prisons in the US, which, incidentally holds a full 25% of the world's imprisoned population. It is a technology and philosophy that certainly deserves further scrutiny and consideration. To read more about the Deloitte presentation at South By Southwest, click on the link below.

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