« "Pardons and the Theory of the 'Second Best'" | Main | Notable coalitions in 5-4 SCOTUS ruling on front-door drug sniffs as searches »

March 26, 2013

New York Times editorial urges "Shrinking Prisons, Saving Billions"

While on the road, I missed this notable New York Times editorial from this past weekend.  Here are excerpts:

The mandatory sentencing craze that gripped the country four decades ago drove up the state prison population sevenfold — from under 200,000 in the early 1970s to about 1.4 million today — and pushed costs beyond $50 billion a year.  Until recently, it seemed that the numbers would keep growing. But thanks to reforms in more than half the states, the prison census has edged down slightly — by just under 2 percent — since 2009.  A new analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts shows that the decline would have been considerably larger had the other states not been pulling in the opposite direction.

Over the last five years, 29 states have managed to cut their imprisonment rates, 10 of them by double-digit percentages.  California, which has been ordered by the Supreme Court to ease extreme prison crowding, led the way with a 17 percent drop, mainly by reducing parole and probation revocations and shifting custody of low-level offenders to counties.  Other states reduced prison terms for low-level offenses; diverted some offenders to community supervision; and strengthened parole programs, so that fewer offenders landed back in jail for technical violations like missed appointments or failed drug tests.

Even law-and-order states like Texas, which cut its imprisonment rate by 7 percent, have discovered that they can shrink the prison population without threatening public safety. Investing heavily in drug treatment and community supervision, Texas has avoided nearly $2 billion in spending on new prisons, while the crime rate has dropped to levels unseen since the 1960s.  But even as the national prison population has declined, 20 other states — including Arizona, Arkansas, Pennsylvania and West Virginia — keep sending more people to prison than need to be there....

States that lag in reducing their prison populations should swiftly embrace these kinds of reforms.

March 26, 2013 at 09:19 AM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference New York Times editorial urges "Shrinking Prisons, Saving Billions":


I have a better idea than shrinking prisons.

Shrink crime.

When we do that, we'll have fewer crime victims, fewer economic losses from crime, and a safer, more peaceful and prosperous country. And as a side benefit, imprisonment will shrink all by itself.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 26, 2013 10:26:56 AM

Two points.

First, none of this seems to take into account the possible increase in "costs" (in crime, government benefits, rearrest, another trial, re-incarceration) 10 years out when better recidivism data will exist.

Two, even if relatively few of these people are re-arrested, it just does not prove what so many think it does. It does not necessarily mean that they should never have been incarcerated (or incarcerated for the length of time they were). It could just as easily mean that 20 years in the big house changes your outlook on life in a manner that 5 years does not. In other words, it worked.

Posted by: TarlsQtr1 | Mar 26, 2013 12:00:56 PM

All savings are dwarfed by the costs of crime. I do not believe the low crime rate stats unless based on survey data. Police data are subject to political pressure. The states will regret these false savings. The cheapest would be to eradicate the violent criminals at the youngest age tolerated by the public such as 14, prior to the onset of their busy crime careers. However, that would also end hundreds of thousands of worthless government make work jobs babysitting vicious predators for decades.

The NYT wants the resources transferred to other government agencies, and not back to the taxpayer.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 26, 2013 6:56:33 PM

LOL got to give SC this one. He's also not including the hidden numbers of unreported crimes.... everyone seems to love to use that when talking about unreported sex crimes.

So let's use it here.

They don't count unreported crimes by politicians
They don't count unreported crimes by law enforcment.

We know they happen.,

Posted by: rodsmith | Mar 26, 2013 11:28:15 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB