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January 27, 2008

It's the prison economy, stupid

I have long thought that sober economic analysis could and would significantly alter traditional thinking about imprisonment and other forms of punishment.  And now it seems that sobering economic times will start highlighting the intersection of prison realities and economic realities more regularly.

Consider, for example, this article from yesterday's Columbus Dispatch, headlined "Governor wants prisons re-evaluated: Short terms increase costs, crowds, he says."  Here is how it starts:

Of the 16,994 short-term inmates admitted to Ohio's prison system in 2006, nine were released after a single day.  Another 32 stayed a week, 236 were out in 30 days, and 2,180, or 12.8 percent of all those sentenced to a year or less, were back on the street in three months.  Yet each prisoner cost the state several hundred dollars to process into the system and $69.40 for each day behind bars.

Gov. Ted Strickland, who is facing the first big financial crunch of his short time in office, shakes his head at the revolving door on Ohio prisons. "I've got serious questions when we get offenders and let them out the day we get them, or after three months or six months," Strickland said.  In an interview with The Dispatch, Strickland said he hopes to ease prison crowding and save state taxpayer dollars at the same time, perhaps by diverting short-term prisoners to community lockups (some of which are funded by the state at lower rates) or other alternatives.

Now consider, for another perspective, this article from today's New York Times, headlined "Plan to Close Prisons Stirs Anxiety in Towns That Depend on Them "  Here is an excerpt:

On Jan. 11, the Spitzer administration announced plans to close Camp Gabriels, two other corrections camps and a medium-security prison, all of which have been operating below capacity since 1996 because of a decline in the number of nonviolent felons, the state’s corrections commissioner, Brian Fischer, said.   Closing those prisons, Mr. Fischer said, would save the state millions of dollars, free up money for the treatment of sex offenders and mentally ill inmates, and finance programs like anger management and vocational training, meant to prepare prisoners for their release.

But for Mrs. Gonyea, her neighbors and co-workers, the prospect of losing Camp Gabriels has stoked fear and doubt — about their future and about the future of their communities, which have come to depend on the prison over the years to survive.

January 27, 2008 at 12:03 PM | Permalink


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Though the closure of correctional facilities housing inmates for whom less restrictive alternatives to incarceration would be parsimonious and plainly appropriate, the local town citizens' reaction underscore the universal reliance of this class of the population to be economically sustained by what Atlantic Monthly and many others have penned as the PRISON INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX. (submitted by federal white collar criminal defense lawyer based in Ft. Lauderdale and former full-time Visiting Professor of Law)

Posted by: benson weintraub | Jan 29, 2008 9:55:04 AM

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