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In the Criminal Justice System, Don’t Sacrifice Public Safety for Profit

Financial motivations — and their budgetary effects — have become persistent and self-reinforcing. Nevertheless, we can rebalance the scales of justice, and we must.

View the entire How Perverse Financial Incentives Warp the Criminal Justice System series

This article first appeared in USA Today

While the nation’s imprisoned popu­la­tion has declined since peak­ing in 2009, incar­cer­a­tion levels still remain extraordin­ar­ily high.

Contin­ued efforts to lower incar­cer­a­tion rates will stall unless we address the role that revenue plays in the daily oper­a­tion of police depart­ments, courts, jails and pris­ons across the coun­try. So much of these entit­ies’ time and effort goes into gener­at­ing revenue that the goals of pursu­ing justice and improv­ing public safety often get pushed to the side.

A new Bren­nan Center for Justice report delves into the inter­lock­ing economic incent­ives that under­pin our justice system. Many of these prac­tices rely on a simple calcu­lus: More people in the justice system means more dollars for agen­cies, govern­ments and contrac­ted for-profit firms

Some of the revenue streams flow straight out of the pock­ets of the people who are tick­eted, searched, arres­ted, jailed, tried and sent to jail or prison, while others arise from a grow­ing trade in bed space at correc­tional and deten­tion facil­it­ies.