New Dawn: Philly court program could mean big savings

Over at Newsworks, WHYY reporter Liz Fiedler has a powerful success story about local government. Fiedler profiles a new effort in the court system called “Project Dawn.” The program, which stresses recovery instead of punishment, has enabled participants to shed addictions, recover from past abuse, and rejoin society.

We'd encourage readers to check out the story themselves, since the testimonials are quite moving. But our inner budget nerd couldn't help but think of the possible savings this kind of program can produce.

If Project Dawn can truly rehabilitate people, it could help lower the prison population. And the prison population is really expensive. Each inmate costs the city roughly $100 per day. It also might help participants become productive members of society, which has its own fiscal benefits.

The Project Dawn approach is often is labeled "soft on crime." But take a look at the hard numbers. Prison is expensive, and there are cheaper alternatives that promise to yield better results. In these tough times, can we really keep throwing money at a system that is clearly broken? The economic crisis was supposed to change our assumptions about government. That should include the criminal justice system.

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