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October 31, 2010

Examining the politics of crime and punishment in modern gubernatorial settings

Writing an original piece for The Crime Report, Steve Yoder provides an extensive and effective discussion of modern crime and justice politics and policies in this article headined "Crime and the Governors."  Here are excerpts:

If national legislators think they’ve been facing tough decisions during the economic crisis, they might try being a governor for a day.  Of the 50 states, 49 are legally required to balance their budgets and, as a result, state spending has cratered — falling in both 2009 and 2010, according to a survey by the National Association of State Budget Officers....

Forty states have cut their corrections budgets in the last two years, and several have prison systems in crisis.  But if gubernatorial candidates are planning to address the problems, they’re mostly not being specific about how.

California is the most prominent.  Next year, the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on a lower-court three-judge panel’s decision to require the agency to reduce the state’s inmate population by 40,000 — nearly one-quarter of the prisoner total — because of overcrowding.

But in a tight race, the gubernatorial candidates have shied away from addressing the issue in detail.  Democrat Jerry Brown, who is also the Attorney General, has defended the Schwarzenegger administration’s appeal to the high court for a reversal of the decision, as required by law.  For her part, Republican Meg Whitman has alleged that Brown has a history of being soft on crime, without offering much evidence.

Likewise, the probable winner in the Kansas race — Senator Sam Brownback — has yet to discuss how he’ll address the state’s overflowing prisons.  In August, the Kansas Sentencing Commission reported a prison population of 8269, ten more than the system’s capacity, and the commission projects the population rising by another 2000 over ten years.

Until recently, Kansas was a model of forward-thinking prison policy.  In response to a high rate of re-offending by ex-prisoners, in 2007 the state legislature funded a range of programs — such as education, drug treatment, and supportive housing — to help them reintegrate.  The approach appeared to work: the number of ex-offenders returning to prison dropped by 16 percent from 2007 to 2009.  But Republican state representative Pat Colloton told The Crime Report that when the economic crisis hit, the programs were cut.  In 2010, the number of former offenders returning to prison has spiked 16 percent, back to the 2007 level.... 

“I think whoever wins in Kansas is going to face some really difficult choices,” Roger Werholtz, Kansas’ corrections chief, told The Crime Report.  “You either spend more on corrections, taking the money from someplace else, or you look at controlling the [prison] population.  My view of the analysis that’s been done by the Sentencing Commission is that the only way you’re going to control the population is through sentencing policy.”

But if changes in sentencing are part of the solution to overcrowding in some states, they’re also being used by challengers to bludgeon incumbents.  In New Hampshire, the governor’s race has turned ugly over the Justice Reinvestment Act signed by Democratic governor John Lynch in June 2010....

[I]n at least two other states, front-running gubernatorial challengers are talking tough.  In Tennessee, Republican Bill Haslam, who has an 28-point lead over Democrat Mike McWherter in the latest poll, is running on tougher state sentencing laws, promising to minimize costs by using his management experience to improve the corrections system’s efficiency....

In Pennsylvania, the platform of front-runner Republican Tom Corbett doesn’t mention his crime policy.  But he is on record criticizing sentencing reform, expressing skepticism in 2008 of a state law passed that year that awarded prisoners time off their sentences for good behavior.  “I am going to take a look at what the crime rate is when that goes into effect,” he said, “and I want to see what it looks like five years from now,” adding that the law meant that Pennsylvania would no longer be a “truth in sentencing” state.

October 31, 2010 at 03:30 PM | Permalink

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Crime falls 40% in neighborhoods with Summer Night Lights program

The program offers recreation, mentoring, counseling and food in troubled L.A. neighborhoods until midnight. It operated at 24 sites this year [in L.A.] and may be expanded.

Posted by: George | Nov 1, 2010 1:53:27 AM

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