December 9, 2008
Encouraging decarceration story out of New Hampshire
This local story from New Hampshire provide a nice reminder that not all government official at all levels want to increase incarceration. The piece is headlined, "Worthy inmates may get sentence break," and it highlights efforts by the state's top corrections official to get some individuals out of prison earlier:
The state's top prison official said yesterday he is putting new emphasis on helping worthy inmates win a suspension of part of their sentences. State law allows the commissioner of corrections to intercede when an inmate wants to ask for a sentence suspension, but may not have been in prison long enough to qualify under the law.
Corrections Commissioner William Wrenn said he is using that power to help convince inmates to continue their education and obtain a high school diploma or equivalency while they are in prison. "All the studies out there say the higher level of education that somebody achieves, the less likely they are to recidivate," he said. "So we work hard to motivate them to try and get that diploma."
Corrections Department data shows about four out of five state prisoners dropped out of high school before earning a diploma.
Wrenn's idea could save the state money. The average cost to house a prison inmate is $30,000 a year. Like commissioners at other state agencies, Wrenn is under orders to cut his budgets for the next two years....
State truth-in-sentencing laws don't allow prisoners time off for good behavior. They do allow an inmate to ask the judge who imposed his sentence to suspend part of it, but only after serving the greater of four years or two-thirds of the minimum term. The same law allows Wrenn to forward a petition to the judge when he thinks it's justified.
Wrenn said some cases may warrant review before four years are up, but he is not about to install a revolving door in the prison walls..... "We're saying to inmates, 'Look, if you do lot of positive things in an attempt to change your behavior and the drivers of your behavior, and you're doing positive stuff, then we'll give you an opportunity to take your case back to a judge for a review.'"...
Corrections spokesman Jeffrey Lyons said that in 2007, less than 48 percent of 2,800 inmates had a diploma. During the year, 13 earned a high school diploma and 93 got a GED.
Wrenn hopes to boost those figures.... "Anything we can do to safely and with low risk to allow somebody back into the community, I think it is worthwhile," Wrenn said.
It is not surprising that tight budget times are leading some state corrections officials to look for creative and progressive ways to reduce incarceration costs. Indeed, given that we still see so few politicians willing to break away from the old "tough-on-crime" thinking, the themes of "cost-effective-on-crime" may be the best hope toward moving away from expensive over-reliance on imprisonment in our nation's criminal justice systems.
December 9, 2008 at 08:58 AM | Permalink
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