Getting Smart on Crime

Incarceration increases recidivism, which is why innovation and rehabilitation are becoming a bipartisan cause

| March-April 2010

  • Smart on Crime

    image by REUTERS / Michael Buholzer

  • Smart on Crime

The following is part of a series of articles on prisons and over-incarceration in America. For more, read  Jailing the American Dream and  Busting Out .

Eric Haines lives with his father in Paterson, New Jersey, across the street from a memorial to a childhood friend who was shot to death two weeks ago—Haines’ second friend to die violently in as many weeks. A white sheet hangs over a chain-link fence, facing an audience of Jesus candles. A few dozen feet away, several men gather outside a corner store, where they will remain past nightfall.

Haines might be out there with them if it weren’t for the black box that’s been strapped to his ankle since he violated the conditions of his parole several weeks ago. Haines, 27, has been under supervision for the past nine years because he’s made parole violations something of a habit. (Haines’ name has been changed for his safety.)

The last time Haines violated his parole (by failing to report to his parole officer), instead of running and waiting to get caught, he simply turned himself in and ended up with an ankle bracelet that monitors whether he is home when he’s supposed to be. His parole officer will remove the ankle bracelet only if he finds a full-time job or enrolls in school—if he makes a substantial effort to leave the streets behind.

Haines admits that it has probably saved his life. As a result of both the constant supervision and the suspicion the bracelet draws, he has been isolated and unable to figure out who killed his friends and potentially retaliate. He now rarely leaves his father’s house, preferring to stay at home and take care of his little sisters.

The ankle bracelet might be more commonly associated with law-breaking celebrities like Martha Stewart or Paris Hilton, but some experts believe it could be the future of criminal justice—a way to supervise offenders in the community without incurring the social, financial, and community costs of incarceration. Instead of sending Haines back to prison for a lengthy sentence that will cost the state a great deal of money, New Jersey turned him into a kind of outpatient inmate whose ability to cause suffering to himself and others is greatly diminished. He also has a chance at building a new life—something he wouldn’t have if he were incarcerated.

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