What is the aim of prison? To keep criminals locked up so they can’t commit crimes in society is another. Punishment, in order to deter people from committing crime is one reason they exist. And you would hope to mold prisoners so they do not commit crimes when they are freed. But the payment for services does not factor in the results of releasing productive members of society. It seems like doing so could result in improvements.
Better Jails by Andrew Leigh, economics professor, Australian National University
To encourage innovation, we should start publicly reporting the outcomes that matter most. Rather than merely telling the public how many people are held in each jail, governments should publish prison-level data on recidivism rates and employment rates.
As well as focusing on the important outcomes, Australian states should rethink the contracts they write with private providers. At present, about 16% of inmates are held in a private jail. Unfortunately, the contracts for private jails bear a remarkable similarity to sheep agistment contracts.
Providers are penalised if inmates harm themselves or others, and rewarded if they do the paperwork correctly. Yet the contracts say nothing about life after release. A private prison operator receives the same remuneration regardless of whether released inmates lead healthy and productive lives, or become serial killers.
A smarter way to run private jails would be to contract for the outcomes that matter most. For example, why not pay bonus payments for every prisoner who holds down a job after release, and does not reoffend? Given the right incentives, private prisons might be able to actually teach the public sector a few lessons on how to run a great rehabilitation program.
The idea of paying for outcomes is great. It makes sense for some pay to be based on keeping prisoners housed during their terms. But providing incentives for achievement in returning productive people back to free society is something we should try.
Related: Lean Management in Policing – Urban Planning – Rich Americans Sue to Keep Evidence of Their Tax Evasion From the Justice Department – Randomization in Sports – LA Jail Saves Time Processing Crime – Measuring and Managing Performance in Organizations
Quality Improvement and Government: Ten Hard Lessons From the Madison Experience by David C. Couper, Chief of Police, City of Madison, Wisconsin
Shock! Economist has really good idea
According to Leigh, nearly 50 per cent of the 20,000 or so prisoners shown the door this year will end up back inside within two years.