Paying Criminals to Stay Out of Jail

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Washington, D.C. is considering a proposal that would pay 50 of its most violent and likely to repeat offenders $9,000 per year to stay out of jail.

In order to receive the annual payments, the individuals would also need to complete nine months of an intensive, stay-straight program of education, counseling and job training to enable these individuals to become successful citizens once again.

The knee-jerk reaction would be to think that this is a waste of money, paying criminals to not commit crimes. Why don’t we pay people that don’t commit a crime? Does such a program create an incentive for someone to commit a crime so that they can be eligible for the program?

The mayor of Washington, D.C. is against the program, saying it will cost the taxpayers $5 million over four years, and that the city already has programs in place to support these individuals.

Even Larry Winget, the Pitbull of Personal Development, has a short video where he rails against the program.

So at the risk of being stupid by Larry Winget for being soft on criminals, I’m in full support of such a program. Larry’s solution is to “teach people to be good people”, and I think that’s what this program plans to do through its required jobs training and focus on education.

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The Washington, D.C proposal is based on a program that has been used for almost a decade in Richmond, Calif., an industrial city in the San Francisco Bay area. Richmond was ranked as the nation’s sixth deadliest for gun violence in 2008 when it began the program and has since recorded a 76 percent drop in gun-related homicides.

As Petula Dvorak points out in the Washington Post, the participants in the Richmond program took trips to college campuses and were forced to make friends with rivals. For every month they attended meetings, listened to mentors, didn’t get in trouble, they got $1,000. The cash helped pay rent and buy food.

Proponents of the D.C. proposal say the Richmond results make the proposal “evidence-based and data driven.”

There’s no doubt that something needs to be done with the large number of people in prison today, and with the high recidivism rate. Watching these folks slip up and throwing them right back in jail costs taxpayers $30,000 a year for incarceration; every gun homicide in America costs taxpayers about $400,000.

If cities have tried other programs with little success, what is the danger of trying something new, something that has some proven success?

What I also like about the program is that it seems to have a heart.

As Dvorak notes about the Richmond program,  “…ultimately, it was the attention to them, their futures and their success that kept those guys coming back, that kept them straight. It’s focused attention to their well-being that many never had before.”

Who wouldn’t respond well to a program like that?

The cost of the program seems quite small compared to the potential benefit. I hope the mayor gives it a chance.

 

 

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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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