As reported in the New York Times here, Missouri has implemented a new information system for sentencing judges that supplies them with the expected cost of various sentencing options. Missouri is apparently the first state to attempt to provide such information on a systematic basis. Although some critics charge that putting the information in front of judges will cause judges to give too much weight to costs, it’s hard for me to imagine why that would be so — the money does not come from their pockets. Surely, cost is a relevant variable in deciding what the best sentence would be in any given case, and I see no more risk that this variable will be given too much weight than any number of other potentially distorting variables, such as criminal history or victim impact statements.
Indeed, I would go one step further than Missouri and require judges to announce the expected cost in open court when they impose a sentence. This would not only force judges to pay greater attention to the information, but also better inform the public regarding the consequences of existing sentencing policies.