Why Is Connecticut’s Prison System Worse Than A 1985 Yugo GV Sedan? A Blog Post By, Brian Moran, Esq.
Do you remember the 1985 Yugo GV Sedan? Car Talk magazine dubbed it the worst car of the millennium.
It was built in Soviet-controlled Yugoslavia in the 1980s. It was imported into the United States and heralded as a great bargain for consumers. Its list of standard features included “carpet.” It also touted a rear-window defroster, the principal purpose of which was to keep your hands warm while pushing the car after it broke down. Jokingly, Yugo’s slogan became “Yugo, but often you don’t”. It was, short and simple, a disaster. It was also difficult to get repaired, often because of a lack of parts.
So what does this have to do with Connecticut’s prison system? And why is Connecticut’s prison system worse than a Yugo?
Well for one thing, our prison system does not come at a bargain basement price. Rather, we are paying for a Lamborghini, but getting a Yugo. Our system costs taxpayers more than $1 billion a year or $51,000 per bed annually (third highest in the United States). When we get offenders back (and over 95% are released and returned to society), they are most often not rehabilitated, supervised or supported. They are not successfully re-integrated into our communities. Almost two-thirds of ex-offenders end up back in the “shop”. They return to prison within 2-3 years. This is, in part, due to Connecticut’s failure to fully and properly treat their addictions and mental health problems. So we end up with a “lemon” — a revolving door system.
This incredibly expensive, ineffective system is also worse than a Yugo because our government imposes a number of post-release restrictions on ex-offenders that impede their prospects of succeeding on the outside. Such restrictions or collateral consequences include denial of public housing, food stamps and eligibility for educational grants. This is akin to telling Yugo owners when they get their cars back from the shop that they can no longer use public highways, bridges, tunnels or public parking spaces. These restrictions on ex-offenders stack the odds against successful re-entry and almost guarantee their return to our prisons.
As a consequence of failing to properly treat and supervise ex-offenders upon their release, Connecticut’s recidivism rate is about 20% higher than the national average of 43%. This is not only bad policy, it is expensive. Hence, the taxpayer is paying for a Lamborghini but getting stuck with a Yugo.
However, there is a better way. One that can bring down costs, lower recidivism and improve public safety. We should right-size our prisons by diverting non-violent offenders to alternatives to incarceration, where they receive treatment and supervision at a far lower cost. The costs of such diversionary alternatives is estimated to be about one-third of incarceration. Probation costs about a tenth of incarceration. A Rand study found that for every dollar spent on inmate education, you save $4 to $5 dollars on re-incarceration. This right-sizing approach has been utilized by other states with great success. Costs have plummeted, recidivism has decreased and violent crime has fallen. Connecticut, what are you waiting for? Let’s buy a sensible reliable car at an affordable price. Let’s get smart on crime.