Nearly 70 percent of Fairfax County voters recently approved a Public Safety Bond ballot measure that authorizes the county government to spend $182,000,000 to renovate and expand numerous police stations and courtrooms, as well as fully renovate the Adult Detention Center, our local jail.
To put the cost in perspective, consider that the $182 million bond measure saddles each household in Fairfax County with an additional $463 expense in 2019, which is almost the cost of paying for school lunches for an entire year or the amount that the average family spends on groceries in a month.
While the need to spend tax dollars to update aging buildings and systems is inevitable, the truth is that we are essentially paying for a non-sustainable criminal justice system – a proverbial highway to a cliff. Numerous studies have proven that incarceration does not lower the recidivism rate, which is the number of people locally who reoffend and end up going back to jail multiple times. Yet, we continue to spend more money on arresting and jailing people.
A 2017 study by the National Institute of Justice confirms that pre- and post-release programs reduce recidivism rates by double digits. The programming ensures that the men and women involved in our criminal justice system are equipped with the career and life skills necessary to successfully reintegrate into society.
The same study establishes that post-release programs can confront the underlying causes of the crime itself, and actually work to help prevent offenders from committing new crimes; this is especially true here in Fairfax County where organizations like OAR of Northern Virginia provide these citizens assistance with housing, job placement, as well as mental health and substance abuse treatment upon their release ensuring that they have the best possible chance to succeed.
Participants in OAR programs are significantly less likely to reoffend than their counterparts who received no post-release assistance.
The budget for the Fairfax Adult Detention Center (ADC) is more than $34 million a year, an amount that is in addition to the $182 million bond. Just two years earlier, the budget for the ADC was $6 million less.vii However, the budget for running pre- and post-incarceration programs that have actually been proven to reduce the number of people who re-offend is less than $1 million a year – roughly only 3 percent spent annually to warehouse these individuals at the ADC.
As a community, we must embrace a fundamental change in how we look at incarceration.
As long as we continue to spend an ever increasing amount of tax dollars that is focused on arrest and incarceration with little or no increase in funding for pre-release or post-release programming, we are condemning ourselves to a lifetime of paying for larger and larger buildings that house more and more people for longer periods of time.
Make no mistake, criminal justice and prison reform is coming. Support for policy changes crosses party lines and ideological divides because such measures are supported by the vast majority of Americans regardless of their politics, race, religion, education, and economic status.
However, part of truly reforming our antiquated criminal justice system includes realizing that failure to assist incarcerated individuals who are returning to the community will result in the continuation of the revolving door our local jails have become.
Executive Director OAR Fairfax