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March 15, 2010

"Prison-reform bills would save money, improve public safety"

The title of this post is the subheading of this notable editorial from my own (unsually conservative) Columbus Dispatch.  Here are excerpts:

[Proposed legislative] reform promises to save the state $29 million a year, alleviate some of the dangerous crowding in state prisons and forestall the day that Ohio must spend billions to build more prisons. Other states have implemented variations on Ohio's legislation with good results. This bill doesn't alter how judges and prisons handle truly dangerous people.

Ohio, unlike the federal government, is forced to balance its budget. So every dollar that goes into housing, feeding and providing health care to prison inmates -- about $1.8 billion annually -- is a dollar that's not available for education, infrastructure and the needy.

As of last Monday, the population at the state prisons was 50,993 inmates, far exceeding the design capacity of 38,000. If nothing changes, the inmate population is projected to reach 60,000 by 2018. This legislation gradually would reduce the population by around 6,700 inmates from today's total.

Under reform proposals, nonviolent inmates would earn credit for good behavior and compliance with treatment and education programs, subtracting days per month from their sentences, capped at 8 percent of their total time in jail.  No sex offender nor anyone convicted of a first- or second-degree felony would be eligible for early release. Studies have shown that these programs reduce recidivism, making the public safer....

The plan also would divert people who chronically fail to pay child support away from prison and into to a community program where they would be taught techniques for getting and keeping jobs and counseled about accepting responsibility.... For other nonviolent offenders, the bill expands the use of community-based corrections, where inmates can get drug treatment, learn anger management and responsible parenting and get their high-school equivalency certificates.

These days, there aren't a lot of easy fixes to systemic, budget-busting problems in state government, but this is low-hanging fruit. The legislature should pass these reforms.

That a relatively conservative editorial board would call a reform bill to reduce state incarceration "low-hanging fruit" surely suggests to me that the tough-on-crime-times they are 'achanging.  That said, nobody should start counting any sentencing reform chickens until bills become laws.

March 15, 2010 at 07:11 PM | Permalink

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Comments

The current system of mass incarceration is unsustainable in light of the structural changes taking place in the U.S. economy that will result in much lower tax revenues for the foreseeable future. Moreover, the research on drug courts and other interventions has reached a point to illustrate that such programs, done well, reduce recidivism. Finally, this is a bipartisan issue not only because of the economics, but because religious conservatives and civil libertarians have coalesced on offender reentry policy, as we saw with the coalition that successfully pushed for passage of the Second Chance Act. More to come from multiple states on this, as well as the federal criminal justice system. Stay tuned.

Posted by: Moshe Avram | Mar 15, 2010 7:32:50 PM

"truly dangerous"

It's weasel words like this that make me dislike conservatives so much. If the criminals aren't "truly" dangerous...why were they in jail in the first place? It's sick and disgusting.

Posted by: Daniel | Mar 15, 2010 9:01:46 PM

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