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September 22, 2009

States continuing to consider prisoner release to deal with budget woes

The economic realities of mass incarceration continue to impact state budgets and political debates, as evidenced today by this local feature out of Illinois headlined "Quinn's plan to release prisoners stirs debate." Here are the basics:

There are still a lot of questions about Gov. Pat Quinn's plan to release about 1,000 prisoners to ease overcrowding and help with the state's budget crisis.  Prison reform advocates have been saying it for many years: that states could save billions of dollars by treating instead of incarcerating drug users.  The message is finally hitting home in deficit-ravaged Illinois where the administration of Gov. Pat Quinn plans an early release for 1,000 state prison inmates....

Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis wishes there was no need for an early release program."From a law enforcement program, you'd always like to have people stay in jail to compete their sentences," said Weis.

But the Quinn administration — still unable to get a tax increase to offset a $10 billion deficit — says releasing non-violent inmates will save millions, pose no threat to law and order, and begin reform the criminal justice system. "We're not just going to use tax money to throw people in a warehouse and they commit more crimes," said Gov. Quinn.

There would be an initial release of 1,000 inmates, most non-violent drug possession offenders with less than one year remaining on their sentences.  Early parolees possibly would be required to live in their family homes with electronic monitors.

Meanwhile, as detailed in this Columbus Dispatch article, an effort in Ohio to patch a budget hole with gambling monies has run into legal troubles and is prompting renewed talk of prisoner releases as one alternative budget balm:

Not quite three months into the new two-year state budget cycle and already Gov. Ted Strickland and legislative leaders are facing the prospect of filling an $851 million funding shortfall. But so far, no one is offering solutions.

Strickland says he is not yet giving up on electronic slot machines. But if he cannot find another way to quickly get the machines at Ohio's seven racetracks, despite yesterday's Supreme Court ruling that the plan can be subjected to a ballot referendum in November 2010, tough decisions await....

In Illinois, the governor just announced that he would release 1,000 nonviolent prisoners, while Michigan has closed three prisons and the governor wants to speed up the possible parole of 12,000 inmates. California might release more than 20,000 prisoners, and Colorado is talking about letting 3,100 prisoners out early.

In Ohio, Senate Republicans nixed a proposed sentencing overhaul from Strickland that would have allowed most prisoners to get out early by earning up to five days of credit per month, saving $50 million over the biennium.

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September 22, 2009 at 10:23 AM | Permalink


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