Getting Justice from the Criminal Justice System

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act) was signed into law by President Obama on February 17th, 2009. It is an unprecedented effort to jumpstart the US economy and to create or save millions of jobs.

Its will be felt across the US in every walk of life.  Of particular interest to those who toil in the CJS of England and Wales, the Act provides $2.7 billion to the Office of Justice Programs; $1 billion to the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program; $225 million to the Office on Violence Against Women; and $10 million to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Compare that with the scale of the cuts heading towards us on this side of the Atlantic.  The Criminal Justice System – the bit that gives us due process and fair trials – is barely coping, and the 25% cuts are yet to be announced.  The wheels of justice are about to grind to a halt.

Maybe time to take another leaf from the US book.

The Cost of Prison Sentences

In Missouri a judge is now told the cost of the sentence he proposes to pass.   The New York Times lists the kind of figures  a judge is given:

“a three-year prison sentence would run more than $37,000 while probation would cost $6,770. A second-degree robber, a judge could be told, would carry a price tag of less than $9,000 for five years of intensive probation, but more than $50,000 for a comparable prison sentence and parole afterward. The bill for a murderer’s 30-year prison term: $504,690”.

Clearly they spend even less on a prisoner in Missouri than in England and Wales (here the cost is £45,000 a year or £900 a week).

Second degree robbery is robbing someone with intimidation but without a weapon.   The sentence here would probably be similar and if served in full would cost £225,000, or £135,000 if the prisoner got out after three years.

Apparently the information is having a big impact on imprisonment rates in Missouri, as it should.   In the absence of clear evidence that a prison sentence is necessary for public protection or is capable of making a difference no public servant would think of spending this kind of money just to send a political message.

It also puts the cost of proper representation (the fee to a solicitor for preparing a 3 day robbery trial in the Crown Court dropped in 2008 to a laughable £1700) into its proper context.   One wrongful conviction in in 100 cases is uneconomic.  Its also a human tragedy.