Sunday, March 24, 2013

Shrinking Prisons, Saving Billions

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. 

Read on...

This is a NYTimes editorial.  Tom

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