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February 24, 2010

Great reporting on what states (and politicians) are now doing with early release programs

John Gramlich writing at Stateline.org has this great new piece, which is headlined "A crack in the prison door," that takes a close look developments and debates over early prisoner release programs in the states. Here are excerpts:

[A] law that lets some Oregon inmates trim as much as 30 percent from their sentences through expanded “earned-time credits,” which are awarded to prisoners who finish coursework, gain work experience or otherwise work to improve their lives behind bars. Created to save the state money in extremely lean fiscal times, the law has moved up release dates for about 3,500 prisoners, including about 950 who have already been released from prison an average of 55 days ahead of schedule.

But a recent backlash over Oregon’s law serves as a reminder of the political pitfalls that can accompany changes in criminal justice policy, particularly when those changes open prison doors earlier for some inmates. California, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Wisconsin are among the other states that have recently accelerated prisoner releases or are considering doing so....

Budget-driven efforts to speed prisoner releases and save states money have touched off political debates elsewhere this year, a major election year in which lawmakers in 46 states face reelection and no candidate wants to be labeled “soft on crime.” The debates have raged even in places where inmates have been released just days earlier than they ordinarily would have been....

 [O]ften lost in the debate over accelerated prison releases is that they are relatively common. Besides the 44 states that allow inmates to earn good-time credits, at least 31 also provide some form of earned-time credits for those who enroll in educational or other programs, according to a study last year by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Nevada, for example, allows some inmates to reduce their time by 60, 90 or 120 days if they complete a certificate, diploma or degree while behind bars. In many other states, correctional authorities can grant “compassionate releases” to sick or dying inmates.

In 2003, lawmakers in Washington state passed a law giving some nonviolent drug and property offenders the chance to reduce their sentences by as much as 50 percent in one of the nation’s most aggressive expansions of earned-time credits. A 2009 study by the independent Washington State Institute for Public Policy found that the program has resulted in lower recidivism rates among those who have been released ahead of schedule. But it also found an increase in property crimes after the change went into effect.

The institute’s finding on recidivism has made Washington a model for lawmakers in other states that have sought accelerated prisoner releases, and is frequently mentioned by criminologists. “Length of stay has nothing to do with the recidivism rate,” Todd Clear, the incoming dean of the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University in New Jersey, says. “If I let someone out (early), I’m not increasing the chances of them committing a crime. I’m just changing the date.”

Despite the studies, politicians and corrections officials are keenly aware that a single, well-publicized crime by an inmate who has been granted accelerated release can call entire programs into question, virtually overnight. In California, for instance, outrage over the state’s good-time credits has been exacerbated by the early release of a Sacramento County inmate who was arrested in connection with an attempted rape less than 24 hours after walking free.

For that reason, Clear believes, early-release initiatives are a recipe for political disaster. “The minute you let a bunch of people out early, you own everything they do,” he says — a point acknowledged by Granholm. “I think any changes in the corrections system can certainly be exploited by political gain by those who want to do so,” Granholm says. “And it’s true in every state in the country.”

February 24, 2010 at 01:39 PM | Permalink

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Comments

Early release does not change the recidivism rate. However, it changes the date of the recidivism. The lawyer dumbass is too stupid to figure out the result on the crime victimization rate.

All early releases should be to the street where these lawyers live.

All subsequent crimes result from the negligence of these biased lawyers. They should be sued by subsequent crime victims. If any record contains a warning of recidivism, exemplary damages should apply due to knowledge and malice of these internal enemies.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Feb 25, 2010 2:04:42 AM

Again, SC argues against lawyer make-work by arguing in favor of more lawyer make-work.

Come on, SC, a three-year old could take down that argument. I know you're better than that.

Posted by: Res ipsa | Feb 25, 2010 12:04:24 PM

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