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January 3, 2012

Discussion of the high costs of the prison boom from coast to coast

The media is ringing in the new year with a number of notable pieces in a number of state newspapers discussing the need for sentencing and correction reforms in light of the high costs of large state prison populations:

The ending paragraphs of the piece from Georgia highlights how the political environment surrounding these discussions have changed in modern times:

Stepping away from a lock-em-up philosophy might have been the equivalent of political suicide in the 1990s, but that’s hardly the case today. Many leading conservatives -- including Newt Gingrich and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and many others -- support an approach that de-emphasizes prison for non-violent offenders.

Texas was among the first states to change course. In 2007, facing the need to spend $540 million to build new prisons expected to cost another $1.5 billion to run, the state decided to spend a fraction of the anticipated prison costs on alternative programs for non-violent offenders. Since the change, both the crime rate and the incarceration rate have declined.

In 2010, South Carolina adopted a reform package after lawmakers found that prisons were packed with repeat and non-violent offenders. The changes, projected to save up to $175 million in prison construction costs and $66 million in operating costs over five years, are designed to improve public safety. North Carolina also adopted sweeping legislation last year that will reduce spending on corrections with the goal of increasing public safety through programs that should cut repeat offenses.

[Georgia Gov. Nathan] Deal said changes enacted in other states will give Georgia models to consider. And so far, he said, he is hearing positive responses from lawmakers of all stripes. “As members of the General Assembly continue to see demands placed on them to appropriate more money for incarceration and see the numbers of inmates continue to rise substantially every year,” Deal said, “I think they’re certainly willing to embrace these changes.”

January 3, 2012 at 04:39 PM | Permalink


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Because it is so much cheaper to allow crime to occur than punish it. It is too much to hope that the next crime these early releasees commit is against a leftist lawyer.

Posted by: Federale | Jan 3, 2012 5:39:21 PM

One man's "leftist lawyer" is another man's patriot. Ask Patrick Henry.

Posted by: ? | Jan 3, 2012 8:30:37 PM

Or ask Lynne Stewart, "patriot" extraordinaire.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 3, 2012 10:13:15 PM

About 95% of the "non-violent" charges are fictitious plea bargain, adjudicated charges. All prisoners should be classified using the original indictment charges.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 4, 2012 6:18:36 AM

While these innovations are interesting, they are extraordinarily less effective than prevention.

The most effective and cost efficient way to reduce incarceration is to reduce crime and violence by investing in what works to prevent crime. Fewer victims of violence means less harm to victims, fewer 911 calls and fewer admissions to incarceration. The evidence for reinvesting in prevention is compelling but somehow is not mentioned. Let´s make 2012 a year when legislators use taxes to stop crime, based on proven evidence.

Posted by: Irvin Waller | Jan 4, 2012 5:13:20 PM

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