A major issue in the current US prison system is overcrowding and excessive costs. Ever since the national war on drugs in the early 1970s, the number of inmates in the prison system has grown tremendously. Because of this overcrowding, the US spends upwards of $74 billion a year on prisons.
A solution to this issue is to implement methods of punishment other than incarceration. Prisons are necessary for violent, “career” criminals because treatment would not necessarily be effective and they would keep free citizens in society safe. However, using alternatives to incarceration for low level and first time offenders would drastically decrease the costs of prisons. Alternative sanctions such as drug courts, mental health courts, domestic violence courts, community service, fines, probation, and parole can be cost effective and have been proven to lower recidivism rates (reverting to criminal behavior after receiving sanctions from previous crime). Alternative sanctions can be more effective because they focus on ending criminal behavior. On the other hand, prisons serve as severe punishment for a crime but do little to prevent the convicted criminal from committing another offense in the future.
Although, research has shown that alternative sanctions are effective in reducing recidivism rates, states should not blindly implement all of them. Instead, they should base their decisions on their prison populations, if they have people with the right training who could run these alternative programs, if they can be afforded, and if other criminal justice partners would accept them. A balance between prisons and alternative sanctions is ideal for reducing the costs, reducing recidivism rates, and keeping citizens safe.