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Robert M. La Follette
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Cost-benefit analysis recommends statewide investment in alternatives to incarceration

A cost-benefit analysis by La Follette School students recommends that Wisconsin invest $20 million in programs that divert some non-violent criminal offenders from jail or prison to community-based alternatives. The annual investment could help offset increased costs of incarceration and reduce prison overcrowding.

Study available online

Statewide Expansion of Treatment Alternatives to Incarceration in Wisconsin: A Cost Benefit Analysis is available as La Follette School Working Paper No. 2012-004.

In the news

Analysis course benefits state of Wisconsin

Public affairs students in David Weimer’s cost-benefit analysis class are helping state agencies and community organizations make better decisions about criminal justice reform, environmental regulations, child welfare, mental health treatment and other policy areas. Read more ...

The students, enrolled in David Weimer’s cost-benefit analysis class, examined Wisconsin’s seven treatment alternatives and diversion programs. The programs rely on evidence-based corrections practices, primarily diversion from prosecution and drug treatment court. “Although diversion and drug court serve different populations, both target non-violent offenders who demonstrate a need for substance abuse treatment,” the students note. “Both approaches offer an array of drug and alcohol treatment alongside community-based alternatives to incarceration.”

The students ran several statistical comparisons to estimate the impact of applying treatment alternatives and diversion programs statewide. With the assumption that some funding for adult corrections should be “reinvested” in the community to implement evidence-based alternatives to incarceration, the report, available as La Follette School Working Paper No. 2012-004, concluded that a $20 million investment in such programs could generate an estimated $86 million in annual benefits throughout the state in the form of taxpayer savings and benefits to victims from reduced crime.

“The approach we suggest expands capacity for both drug court and diversion programs and recognizes the need to maintain programs that serve an offender population that requires more intensive treatment and monitoring services than diversion programs typically offer,” says one of the authors, Anne Chapman.

She and co-authors Colin Christopher, Tim Nardine, Karen Parkinson, Justin Rabbach and Nicole Thiher produced the report for Community Advocates Public Policy Institute in Milwaukee. They worked with the institute’s community justice program manager, Marilyn Walczak, who notes that the “analysis demonstrates that investing in these alternative programs appears to be a more effective use of funds to address crime than increased investment in incarceration-based sentencing options.”

At about 1.5 percent of the $1.3 billion Department of Corrections budget, a $20 million statewide investment in drug courts and diversion programs is feasible, the students note. Funding could come from a broad range of stakeholders throughout the state’s criminal justice system. Both types of programs would allow a wider range of participants to participate and provide leeway to counties, which would be able to assign offenders to the program that better treats their specific needs and increases their likelihood of being treated successfully.

“Our analysis demonstrates that investing in these alternative programs appears to be a very effective use of funds,” Chapman says, “that addresses crime itself rather than encouraging more spending on incarceration of non-violent offenders.”

— posted April 30, 2012