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At the current rate of growth, the state of Washington would have to build three new prisons by the year 2030 at a cost of $250 million each to construct and $45 million a year to operate. Consequently, the Washington State Institute for Public Policy is working to find ways to reduce crime and calculate which methods will have the largest financial benefit in the long run.

One intervention that is particularly beneficial is called multidimensional treatment foster care, in which youthful offenders are placed in foster families and given behavioral therapy. The institute found this reduces crime 22 percent and has a net benefit of $78,000 per offender over 13 years.

In a news release, "Applying Science to Prison Overcrowding," the Institute also revealed:

  • Using electronic devices to track adult offenders, rather than incarcerate them, does not reduce crime.

  • Incarcerating criminals does reduce crime -- increasing prison population by 10 percent, reduces crime by four percent -- but it's the most expensive option.

  • Another cost-effective approach is to offer treatment to drug addicted prisoners, instead of incarceration.

The Washington study has been closely watched by officials in the U.K. where prisons are overflowing.

"The Washington study uses evidence to assert that reducing crime will reduce the numbers going into prison, but we believe the relationship is more complicated than this," a UK Home Office spokeswoman says. "We do commission our own studies to inform our policies."

See Also:
Applying Science to Prison Overcrowding
More Information:
The Prison and Parole System
Prison Inmate Services


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