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Commentary by Enaya Hanbali
| Tuesday, Jan 26, 2016

EnayaHanbaliThere has been a drastic increase of prisoners in our jail system the past few years. There have been several complaints of overcrowding nationwide due to the high number of nonviolent drug offenders and high number of offenders in general returning back to prison.

According to the Department of Justice (2016), 67 percent of prisoners return to jail. This must mean our prison system is not working effectively to protect the community at large. These offenders don’t know where to go or whom to turn to get off of drugs and to find social support needed to stay away from it.

The price of the entire prison system is unnecessarily expensive, and there are other alternatives that can be more effective in reducing the number of drug abusing crime while reducing some of the $39 billion tax dollars per year on the prison system. According to the Bureau of Prisons, 46 percent of prisoners are nonviolent drug users, which is about 85,363 offenders in 2015.

The United States needs to be more compassionate about the issue of nonviolent drug offenders in prison and needs to come up with a better solution, which would be to put them into rehab instead. Putting nonviolent drug offenders in jail is not going to work with every crime that occurs in jail, the goal is to reduce the number of nonviolent crime by turning to counseling and rehab to get the nonviolent drug offender’s life back together instead of resorting to bigger crimes because they never were able to get their lives together.

I would think of putting nonviolent drug abusers in a similar concept with people how we treat people who get speeding tickets. People get speeding tickets when they are driving on the road a couple times; if it doesn’t happen often or if it happens the first time, they are sent to traffic school. The concept of putting prisoners to rehab means we give someone a second chance to get their lives together to get them off of drugs and to help them return to society in a more functional manner.

Even though this has not been tried, putting prisoners into rehab instead of prison would even reduce the number of people returning back to rehab instead of returning back to jail, especially when the social services are available and are also much cheaper than putting them into prison.

Number of Years Each Prisoner is sentenced in Jail Number of Prisoners in Jail in 2015 Number of Prisoners for drug use in 2015 Cost to have them in Prison Cost to have Offenders in Rehab
Less than One Year 5453 2508  $           78,477,176.68  $            188,128,500.00
1 to 3 Years 21451 9867  $         308,713,353.56  $            740,059,500.00
3 to 5 Years 24681 11353  $     1,065,594,277.08  $            851,494,500.00
5 to 10 Years 46489 21385  $     3,345,246,164.20  $        1,603,870,500.00
10 to 15 Years 37799 17388  $     5,439,865,764.40  $        1,304,065,500.00
15 to 20 Years 20855 9593  $     4,502,039,757.00  $            719,497,500.00
More than 20 Years 23426 10776  $     6,742,733,691.20  $            808,197,000.00
In Prison for Life 5359 2465  $     2,313,731,101.20  $            184,885,500.00
Annual Cost  $   23,796,401,285.32  $        6,400,198,500.00

According to the VERA Institute of Justice (2012), it costs about $31,286 per year for every person in jail. According to Brande (2012), it also costs about $2,000 to $25,000 per month to put someone in rehab.

In the chart, Prison vs Rehab, there is a statistical analysis about the number of people who are in prison and for how long, according to the Bureau of Prisons. The statistics from the Bureau of Prisons show that 46 percent of offenders in jail are nonviolent drug offenders, the third column shows that the number of people who are in prison as a nonviolent drug offender. The fourth and fifth column show the cost to put someone in prison in comparison to someone who is in rehab for nonviolent drug offense. The calculation is for individuals who are currently in prison is based on the number of drug offense offenders times the minimum number of years sentenced in prison times the annual cost of being in jail.

The calculation in the fifth column is the number of drug offenders times the maximum cost of rehab for 90 days, which is $75,000. The cost of putting 2,465 federal prisoners who were nonviolent drug offenders who were put in prison for life, there was an estimate that they would be in jail for about 30 years in the analysis (even though they are really there for life).

The overall cost difference between putting a nonviolent drug offender in jail in comparison to putting them in rehab is significantly huge. If you put someone in jail or rehab, assuming that the nonviolent drug offender does not come back to either place, would cost about $23.8 billion. If we put those same nonviolent drug offenders in the most expensive rehab facility for 90 days, it could cost the United States about $6.4 billion. Putting nonviolent prisoners in rehab instead of jail could save $17.4 billion.

The annual cost of the prison system is about $39 billion per year; the United States can save about $21.6 billion in tax dollars if we decide to purse prison reform.


Enaya Hanbali is a native Southern Californian of Arab American descent. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and master’s degree in public policy and administration from California State University, Long Beach.

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  1. Well, let’s look at the cause. Borders open drug trade alive and well and brown allows sanctuary Cities to thrive.so with this going on, I say, build more prisons!

  2. Bill Russell Bill Russell says:

    Building more prisons won’t help with ADDICTION! It will simply cost the taxpayer another $40,000 a year to house these people. Until it affects you, you’ll never know how insidious this epidemic truly is..

  3. Myk Halibut Myk Halibut says:

    No victim, no crime.

  4. You are a moron. rehab only works for those who want it . these addicts don’t want it so just another failed liberal effort to free criminals. I say build more prisons, a lot more prisons. Make many of them private prisons. Make tent cities like Arizona. Humiliate the crap out of these people . Make life so uncomfortable that repeating this would be the last thing they would want to do.

  5. Bill Russell Bill Russell says:

    Well Steph, your words speak volumes. Need I say more.

  6. Josh Denton says:

    Apparently the author never heard of Prop 36, which existed in CA to allow those non-violent drug offenders the opportunity to attend rehab instead of incarceration and if completed successfully have the felony reduced to a misdemeanor on your record.. Prop 36 was terribly unsuccessful so in CA they instituted Prop 47 which made simple drug possession a misdemeanor with little to no jail time (many police departments cite and release in the field).

    The problem is that these low level drug offenders tend to be the ones that commit the majority of the property crime (burglary, auto theft type crimes). Also many violent crimes are committed by those who are under the influence of or are addicted to controlled substances.
    While academic theories about rehab and abolition of the prison system seems like a good idea they fail miserably in real life application.
    Josh D
    B.S. Criminal Justice
    M.S. Criminal Justice
    10 years of Law Enforcement experience.

    • SCVNews.com says:

      Nobody is in prison in California for simple possession alone. Those who are, plea-bargained down. Don’t want anybody in prison for simple possession? Well, then we’d have to stop agreeing to plea deals. And THEN how clogged up would the courts & jails be?

  7. A. Aird says:

    You have voted to release these drug offenders and now we are paying the price.. Crime rates everywhere are sky rocketing and the tax paying citizens no longer live in
    Peace in their homes. People involved in drugs are CROOKS. WAKE UP.

  8. Al Aird Al Aird says:

    You voted to release drug offenders, now we are paying the price. Crime rates are Sky Rocketing everywhere and the tax paying citizens no longer lives in peace in their own home. Drug offenders are CROOKS. Wake up to what you voted for. Rehab ONLY works if YOU want it.

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