Commentary: Jailing nonviolent offenders costly to taxpayers

By Ken Abraham

Folks, we all know by now that our criminal justice system is sucking in billions of our tax dollars every year, is not reducing crime in any significant way, and is deeply flawed. But this article caught my attention as “beyond crazy”! Just open the article and see the kinds of “crimes” these people are being arrested for, and the numbers of repeat arrests. Talk about counterproductive! This is YOUR tax money absolutely wasted! (Article is at

We all know that prison is a revolving door, but these numbers are nuts! In New York City, 800 people accounted for 18,713 jail admissions! Each of these individuals averaged a median of 21 incarcerations with an average jail stay of 11 days. These frequent incarcerations cost the city $129 million over five years. In Camden, New Jersey, 5 percent of adults accounted for 25 percent of all arrests over a five-year period. Nationwide numbers are elusive, but this is part of what goes on.

The pattern of repeated incarcerations — with each one making a future repeat more likely — is not uncommon. Across the nation, police make nearly 10.6 million arrests each year, and at least 4.9 million people are arrested and sent to jail annually. Of those millions, at least one of every four has been jailed more than once in the same year.

These frequent arrests aren’t because the people involved threaten public safety. Eighty-eight percent of people who had been arrested multiple times had not been arrested for a serious violent offense, such as aggravated assault, murder, rape or manslaughter. Instead, they are arrested and sent to jail on drug charges, driving under the influence, theft, drunkenness, violating a court order or the conditions of probation or parole, or a traffic violation.

Those targeted are caught in a revolving door of hospitalization, jail and homelessness. People who are arrested multiple times are more likely to be poor, unemployed and have less than a high school education. Race and racial profiling remain a prominent factor in whom the police target for arrest. Black people make up 42 percent of people who have been jailed multiple times over the past year, though they comprise 13 percent of the nation’s overall population.

Race, income, housing status and substance use remain major factors in who is targeted for multiple arrests, People who are homeless and have co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders are targets for repeated arrests, and arresting people who are engaged in substance use increases their risk of overdosing once they’re released.

Among the solutions are access to health services, community-based treatment for mental health and substance use disorders, stable housing, and re-classifying misdemeanors into non-jailable offenses.

Ken Abraham, of Dover, served as Delaware deputy attorney general from 1974 to 1979 and is no president of Citizens for Criminal Justice.

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