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September 5, 2009

"Cash-strapped states revise laws to get inmates out"

The title of this post is the headline of this effective article from today's Los Angeles Times.  Here is how it gets started:

After decades of pursuing lock-'em-up policies, states are scrambling to reduce their prison populations in the face of tight budgets, making fundamental changes to their criminal justice systems as they try to save money.  Some states are revising mandatory-sentencing laws that locked up nonviolent offenders; others are recalculating the way prison time is counted.

California, with the nation's second-largest prison system, is considering perhaps the most dramatic proposal -- releasing 40,000 inmates to save money and comply with a court ruling that found the state's prisons overcrowded.

Colorado will accelerate parole for nearly one-sixth of its prison population.  Kentucky has already granted early release to more than 3,000 inmates.  Oregon has temporarily nullified a voter initiative calling for stiffer sentences for some crimes, and has increased by 10% the time inmates get off their sentences for good behavior.

The flurry of activity has led to an unusual phenomenon -- bureaucrats and politicians expressing relief at the tight times. "The budget has actually helped us," said Russ Marlan, a spokesman for the Corrections Department in Michigan, which increased its parole board by 50% this year to speed up releases. "When you're not having budget troubles, that's when we implemented many of these lengthy drug sentences and zero-tolerance policies [that] really didn't work," he said.

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September 5, 2009 at 06:43 PM | Permalink


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These premature releases are a good natural experiment. Obviously, there should be studies measuring increases in criminal victimizations, including domestic violence and child abuse burden after return home. There may be no savings after the consequences of these releases are measured.

But, what about the effect on the prisoner of being released? 1) relapse int drug abuse, and an increase in risk of accidental overdose, or being murdered, of suicide, of organ damage, such as hepatitis, HIV. All these potential consequences to the prisoner are at taxpayer expense. Factoring in medical costs, the increase in cost may not only offset any savings from the prison budget, but be far more expensive.

My main point is to take 5% of any savings and to invest it in follow up studies by some neutral academic, not by any lawyer.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 5, 2009 8:16:43 PM

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