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February 4, 2009

Virginia legislature working on cost-saving sentencing reforms

The Washington Post has this report from Virginia on the latest local sentencing reforms being driven by prison economy realities.  The article is headlined "Nonviolent Inmates Could Get Out Early: Va. Senate Drafts A Budget Assist Worth $50 Million," and here are excerpts:

Leaders in the Virginia Senate are drawing up plans to overhaul the state's criminal sentencing policies so that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of inmates can be released from prison early, a politically risky move aimed at saving tens of millions of dollars.

Under the proposal being drafted by Senate leaders from both parties, Virginia would expand its use of home monitoring and make it easier for nonviolent offenders to be released after they complete drug treatment programs.

The state would then close one or two prisons, which would free up at least $50 million to help address a $3 billion budget shortfall.... "In talking to my constituents, they are not interested in spending $25,000 a year to incarcerate these people when we are talking about cutting higher education, public education and health care," said Sen. Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax)....

Senate leaders say the budget shortfall is forcing them to look for savings within the state's prison system. Virginia operates 41 correctional facilities. The typical facility has 1,024 beds and costs $25 million annually to operate. In December, Kaine proposed that four prisons be closed as part of ongoing budget cuts. Howell said the Senate would like to add to that list....

According to a working draft of the Senate plan, some nonviolent offenders would be sent home with electronic monitoring equipment to complete their sentences.  But before anyone is released, the state would have to complete an aggressive risk assessment.  Only those inmates who are deemed unlikely to reoffend would be eligible for early release.   Virginia already conducts electronic monitoring of about 4,000 probationers. The state does not use the devices as an alternative to incarceration, said P. Michael Leininger, a legislative liaison for the Department of Corrections.

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February 4, 2009 at 05:55 AM | Permalink

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