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August 10, 2009

Kentucky looking to reduce prison costs to avoid educational cuts

Telling a story that I suspect is familiar in the majority of states, this local article from Kentucky, headlined "State looks at prison spending," highlights that state leaders are coming to see that surging prison costs risk drawing funds away from other important state funding priorities:

State lawmakers are looking at options for the General Assembly to consider during its 2010 legislative session intended to curb the state's soaring prison population and free up cash for other productive expenses — such as education.

As Kentucky's budget funds become increasingly scarce, lawmakers are looking to free up money to spend elsewhere. Lawmakers have been considering options to shrink, or at least slow, Kentucky's prison population. It's a persistent problem, without easy answers.

"The current rate of growth of putting people in prison in Kentucky is not sustainable," Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President Dave Adkisson told a legislative panel on the judiciary last week. "The potential solutions are not about being soft on crime, but are about rethinking how we deal with offenders in a way that lowers the cost."...

Kentucky has about 22,000 inmates. Last year's corrections budget was about $457 million. That's a fairly large chunk of money to some, considering the state budget is about $9.4 billion a year.

Adkisson said money for prisons, and money for Medicaid and public employee health insurance, is changing Kentucky's priorities and shifting its focus away from education.  Instead, Adkisson said, the state should consider an expansion of Kentucky drug courts, possible privatization of prisons and a change in persistent felony offender laws that require mandatory sentences.

"The state is consciously or unconsciously shifting its priorities away from education toward some of these things that are driving the state budget," Adkisson said.  "Kentucky is spending more to address the cost of failing to invest in education than it is on students."

The Kentucky Criminal Justice Council last year offered the legislature a report filled with recommendations on how the state might reduce its prison population while maintaining public safety.  Among other things, the report said the state might change some of its drug laws to reduce penalties.  It also recommended making possession of less than a gram of cocaine a misdemeanor instead of a felony and raising the felony theft threshold from $300 to $500. Lawmakers earlier this year responded by approving legislation that would offer first time non-violent drug offenders a diversion program that would offer long-term treatment.

It is both significant and telling that these statements about the need for Kentucky to put more money into education and less into imprisonment are coming, not from traditional liberal public policy groups, but from he president of the state's Chamber of Commerce.  Slowly but surely, more people outside of traditional criminal justice arenas are coming to understand that modern mass incarceration is a very costly enterprise that has many problematic ripple effects throughout all of society.

Some recent related posts about the realities of the prison economy:

August 10, 2009 at 09:50 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Why don't they just take away the free HBO, Weider professional bodybuilding sets, Pilates machines, manicurists, etc. that these prisoners enjoy in their pampered lifestyle??

Oh, yeah, because that massively outrageous set of circumstances doesn't exist except in the fantasies of certain media commentators and know-nothing Joe Q. Publics. (And, to the extent that things like basic TVs and weights are present, they cost next to nothing and actually enhance security in the prisons.)

Nothing to it but to reduce the population or cut the untouchables: food and DOC administrative kickbacks.

Posted by: Salty dog | Aug 10, 2009 11:07:07 AM

I think that by cutting prison cost you should consider to release inmates,who have completed the substance abuse program inside the prison.If the inmate is going up for parole within 6 months after graduating the program you should let the inmate go up sooner,and be released.

Posted by: Ruth Parish | Aug 26, 2009 1:22:02 PM

First off, we don't get free hbo, or pilates machines. You can, though cut down on expenses by having your correctional officers not make false reports and send them to the parole board after an inmate has made parole to punish them.
Let me explain. I made parole in 2011. Internal affairs then asked me to snitch or I wouldn't go home. I refused to snitch so they made a false report saying I was on a cell phone. They then sent it to the parole board and in doing so, I had to stay another 2 years in prison. There ya go taxpayers, that is what you pay for.

Posted by: greg | Dec 4, 2013 1:21:07 PM

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