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August 11, 2009

"At least 23 states spend less on prisons"

The title of this post is the headline of this effective new piece at Stateline.org.  Here are a few excerpts that spotlight the continued impact of both lean budgets and political dynamics on the operation of modern criminal justice systems:

The national recession is taking its toll on what had been one of the fastest-growing areas of state government spending: prisons.  Even though state corrections budgets have ballooned in the past two decades amid a surging U.S. prison population, at least 23 states slashed funding for prisons this year, according to a new survey by the nonpartisan Vera Institute of Justice, a research organization based in New York....

Six states — Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska and Washington — cut funding for corrections by more than 10 percent from last year’s levels, according to the study. Kansas saw the biggest recorded decrease, spending 22 percent less than it did last year.

Corrections is the fifth-largest area of state spending after Medicaid, secondary education, higher education and transportation. State spending on prisons has swelled as the nation’s jail and prison population has climbed to 2.3 million people, or about one in every 100 adults. But grim budget realities are forcing state lawmakers’ hand....

According to Stateline.org’s annual review of states’ legislative sessions, at least seven states — Colorado, Kansas, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and Washington — this year decided to close prisons.  In some states, those plans touched off resistance among prison unions and in hard-hit communities anxious about losing even more jobs....

While some criminal justice advocates contend that early releases and other cost-cutting moves could endanger public safety, others say states have not gone far enough in cutting inmate numbers.  Some advocates say state lawmakers have avoided what they see as the “elephant in the room” — tough sentencing policies that have put many low-level offenders behind bars for longer and been a major factor behind the explosive growth in the nation’s prison population since the 1970s, when many of the laws were passed....

Washington state’s legislative session this year was “completely upside down in terms of criminal justice policy,” said state Rep. Roger Goodman (D), vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee. Goodman said lawmakers cut funding for the wrong programs — such as housing and other transitional services that can help ex-inmates stay out of trouble — and refused to make substantial changes to the sentencing policies that he said have put too many nonviolent and drug-addicted people in prison in the first place.  Goodman explained lawmakers’ distaste for making sentencing changes this way: “There aren’t enough political points to be gained by taking this issue on. There are political points to be gained by attacking it.”

While broad changes to criminal sentencing laws remain a tough sell issue in many state capitols, corrections officials are pushing other, less controversial changes to reduce prison populations.  Many states have made sick or dying inmates eligible for early parole.  Other states, including Florida and Tennessee, have invested more heavily in drug treatment courts and community supervision programs in the hopes of keeping offenders from returning to prison.

Some recent related posts about the realities of the modern prison economy:

August 11, 2009 at 06:42 PM | Permalink


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The problem is how many violent criminals and murders are going to be put back in the streets because of these dost cutting moves. How many people are going to be hurt as the number of criminals on the streets will increase.

Posted by: jim | Aug 11, 2009 7:06:26 PM

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