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March 31, 2009

"Shrinking State Budgets May Spring Some Inmates"

The title of this post is the title of this piece from NPR's "Morning Edition."  Here is an excerpt:

This month, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear signed a law sending hundreds of drug offenders to treatment instead of prison. It's expected to save the state millions. Kansas, Montana and Pennsylvania are now doing the same. Other states are facing more drastic measures. California, South Carolina and Utah are considering letting thousands of inmates out early.

"This is a big bill that's coming due from a lot of overheated rhetoric from the '80s and '90s," said Adam Gelb, who studies prison costs for the Pew Center on the States. Gelb says prisons now house too many nonviolent property and drug offenders that never would have been sent to long prison terms in the past. "As we cast the correctional net wider and wider," he said, "we caught smaller and smaller fish."

But Tom Sneddon, of the National District Attorneys Association, says states should think carefully before they upend laws that he says reduced crime. He says there's no such thing as a small fish. "There aren't people sitting in prison that don't belong there," he said.

Sneddon says that in the 30 years he spent as a prosecutor, drug offenders were often charged with multiple crimes. But he says they're usually offered a plea deal for just one charge, making it seem as though they have been sent to prison on a single small charge. "To balance a budget on law enforcement and public safety's expense is not a wise policy decision to be made," he said.

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March 31, 2009 at 09:04 AM | Permalink


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Spend $40,000 a year, save $4 million in damage from 400 crimes a year per felon. Where is there a better return on investment? The $4 million is the wholesale rate. If each crime were to be priced as an intentional tort with punitive damages, the damages would be astronomical.

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Posted by: Joannah | Apr 1, 2009 2:08:05 AM

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