Using Data-Driven Strategies to Tackle the High Cost of Incarceration

July 1, 2016

by Yuriy Loukachev

The MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth joins the White House’s Data-Driven Justice initiative to disrupt the cycle of incarceration in local communities. 

There are more than 11 million people cycling through local US jails annually and there is broad consensus among criminal justice stakeholders that many of them should not be there.  Instead of being diverted to appropriate public health institutions, individuals are often repeatedly incarcerated for low-level public disorder crimes as a result of mental health crises and/or substance abuse.

The high rate of local incarceration comes with significant social and economic costs.  The costs to taxpayers alone are estimated to be about $22 billion a year.  Research suggests that relatively small populations have a disproportionate impact on county jails and public services.  In Miami-Dade, a study found that 97 men accounted for $13.7 million in costs for over 39,000 bed stays in facilities ranging from jails to mental health institutions.

In some cases, individuals spend more time in jail simply because they can’t afford to pay for bail.  Others have been jailed for failing to pay what they owed for parking tickets, warrants and other municipal fees.  For example, in Rhode Island, an average of 18 people were incarcerated in 2007 for failing to pay down debt.

The burden of these costs fall on local governments as counties tend to own jails and at least partially foot the bill for public health services.  Incarcerated individuals, many of whom have not been convicted of a crime, lose earnings and experience lasting barriers to socioeconomic growth, which perpetuates the cycle.

Yesterday, the Obama Administration announced the launch of the Data-Driven Justice (DDJ) Initiative with a bipartisan coalition of sixty-seven city, county, and state governments who have committed to using data-driven strategies to divert low-level offenders with mental illness out of the criminal-justice system.  These innovative strategies, which have measurably reduced jail populations in several communities, help stabilize individuals and families, better serve communities, and often save money in the process.

MasterCard, along with several other private-sector, philanthropic, and nonprofit organizations, joined the effort.  Through the Center, Advisors and APT, we will leverage our data and analytics capabilities to provide insights on the operational efficiencies and economic impact of the DDJ programs in participating communities.

To learn more, read  Data Driven Justice: Disrupting the Cycle of Incarceration by Lynn Overmann, Senior Advisor to the U.S. Chief Technology Officer.

Yuriy is the program manager for the Center’s data philanthropy initiatives. 

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