What If Prisons Were Fined For High Recidivism Rates?
Date:  08-19-2015

Hospitals that were fined saw a sharp drop in re-admissions, so can that work in a prison setting?
Hospitals that see patients readmitted within 30 days of discharge for the same problem are fined. The object of the fines is to try to get the patient’s treatment right the first time. Stuart M. Butler, in a Brookings Institute article, takes the idea a step further and asks what if that same concept was applied to prisons? Butler wrote:

Imagine if prisons faced a readmissions penalty. Let’s say that if an unusually high number of released inmates from a particular prison were convicted and sent back to prison within three years then the prison’s budget would be cut and the bonuses and salary increases of senior prison staff trimmed back. Just as with hospitals, the first reaction would be to complain at the “unfairness” of being held liable for a released inmate’s return to crime. But after that the prison management would start to do a much better job than today in preparing inmates for re-entry into the community. Petty restrictions and surcharges on phone calls to family members would quickly go – the erosion of family ties increases the likelihood of a return to crime. Limits on GED textbooks would certainly vanish.

Prisons would get serious not only about training inmates but also about working with potential employers to help line up jobs. Instead of dumping released prisoners on the street, prison managers, like today’s hospital managers, would become more interested in arranging stable housing for their ex-customers.

Read Butler’s novel approach to reducing recidivism here.