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  1. #1
    Senior Member JohnDoe2's Avatar
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    Aug 2008
    PARADISE (San Diego)

    DEBATE: Early release for prison inmates to save money

    Our view on hard-times budgeting: States releasing prisoners early may pay for it later

    High recidivism means short-term cuts won’t equal long-term savings.

    In any context, cost cutting in times of economic stress tends to produce shortsighted solutions. But several states struggling to cope with the recession have settled on one approach that is a certain recipe for long-term trouble. They are releasing large numbers of "non-violent" offenders from prison.

    Exhibit A is what has been going on in Kentucky. Last year, in a bid to save $30 million over two years, the Legislature started granting early releases to inmates. Only after 2,500 prisoners were on the way out the door did the legislators realize that in their rush, they had unleashed violent felons and sex offenders along with less dangerous prisoners.

    At least 154 violent felons have been released, as well as 25 sex offenders. Four were inadvertently released even though they had already been indicted for other crimes. Only a few months into the effort, five had returned to prison sporting new felony convictions. The state Supreme Court is poised to decide whether budget cutting zeal went too far.

    Elsewhere, Mississippi, New York, Ohio, Florida and North Carolina are also looking to prison budgets to plug gaping deficits. And after California's budget plan was rejected by voters last month, the Legislature is considering parole for more prisoners than all the other states combined.

    Not only are states releasing prisoners in a rush, they're watching released prisoners less closely once they're out. For instance, Washington state is abandoning enhanced supervision of its worst juvenile offenders, while Wisconsin plans to dump the electronic monitoring of sex offenders. Utah is trying to find money to reverse cuts in the number of probation and parole officers.

    Recidivism rates suggest the budget cuts are more like a shell game. The majority of non-violent inmates released from state prison are rearrested within three years, the bulk of them within 12 months, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). More than a quarter of non-violent offenders will end up back behind bars and back on the state budget.

    A 2004 BJS study of released non-violent offenders shows they can be dangerous, too. It found that hundreds of thousands of released non-violent offenders — one in five — were rearrested for violent crimes, including murder.

    Michigan is one state that has been doing it right. It invests heavily in helping former prisoners rejoin society before it starts returning them to the streets. Yet this year's new state budget is far heavier on cuts to prison spending than it is on investments in keeping newly released inmates out of trouble.

    Granted, Michigan and other states face difficult choices. The recession is reducing their revenue, and unlike the federal government, they can't print money or borrow without limit. Further, concentrating criminal justice resources on violent offenders is a sensible idea. But distinguishing the violent offenders from the non-violent ones isn't so easy, or cheap. It's something best handled case by case, not with a legislative cookie cutter.

    So far, the early-release programs don't even look like honest budgeting. They only stop the flow of red ink temporarily, potentially replacing it with something else the same color — blood.

    Posted at 12:22 AM/ET, June 08, 2009 in Criminal justice - Editorial, USA TODAY editorial --------------------------------------------------------------- ... .html#more


    Opposing view: Relieving overcrowded jails
    Kentucky cuts spending yet still keeps inmate recidivism low.

    By J. Michael Brown

    Kentucky led the country last year in the rate of inmate growth, our population swelling 12% over the previous year. But we are far from alone; jail overcrowding is a national phenomenon.

    In his initial State of the Commonwealth address, Gov. Steve Beshear warned of the impending economic distress that would inevitably strain the budget, and he identified the escalating costs of our prison system as a problem requiring immediate attention. Legislative and executive branches quickly responded.

    Legislation passed this year offers a far-reaching solution to the most common problem plaguing our criminal justice system: substance abuse, which affects more than 70% of our prison population. The law offers offenders treatment before they ever go to trial; if they successfully complete the program, they may never incur a felony charge, keeping them from going deeper into the system.

    Additionally, the Legislature, armed with finely tuned budget calculations, enhanced credits toward an inmate's sentence, a concept well rooted in our justice system to encourage rehabilitation and good conduct. Along with credits for completion of education and substance-abuse programs, lawmakers granted credit for time spent on parole, commonly referred to as "street time."

    The provision has yielded the projected budget relief without any aberration in the rate of recidivism or violent crime. Kentucky's recidivism rate is lower than the national average — about 35% — but fewer than 9% return for a new conviction; the majority who do return do so for a technical violation. Nonetheless, lawmakers this year exempted violent and sex offenders from receiving the credit, while those who have absconded or are returned to prison for new felonies remain ineligible.

    There will always be a need to incapacitate the most serious felons for long periods of time, possibly forever. But for the vast majority of inmates who eventually leave, the most significant public safety policy is to prepare them so they don't return.

    If insanity is indeed repeating the same behavior while expecting different results, then continuing to allow our prison population to spiral out of control without scrutiny or demonstrated public benefit would be at best irresponsible, and possibly insane.

    J. Michael Brown is secretary of the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet.

    Posted at 12:21 AM/ET, June 08, 2009 in Criminal justice - Editorial, USA TODAY editorial
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  2. #2
    Senior Member JohnDoe2's Avatar
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    Aug 2008
    PARADISE (San Diego)

    Florida Legislature gives OK to ship inmates out of state

    Florida Legislature gives OK to ship inmates out of state

    Sending criminals to out-of-state prisons is a 'safety valve' for Florida's overpopulated prisons.

    Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

    TALLAHASSEE -- Florida, famous for shipping orange juice all over the country, may yet be known for a very different kind of export: criminals.

    With the inmate population hovering around 100,000 and the state lacking money to build new prisons, the Legislature has given the corrections department the authority to ship inmates to other states for the first time.

    ''It's a safety valve,'' says the plan's sponsor, Sen. Victor Crist, a Tampa Republican who oversees prison spending. ``This is not a mandate. It's a passive safety net.''

    Crist said shipping prisoners would be considered only as a last resort to avoid the early release of inmates because of overpopulation. The cost would be agreed upon in talks with the receiving states.

    A prison bill (SB 1722) effective July 1 allows the state to ship inmates to state-run or private prisons in other states.

    The nation's largest private prison company, Corrections Corporation of America, houses prisoners from eight states, including California, and has long promoted the transfer idea in Florida, without success. Sen. Crist insists he came to this idea himself and not at the behest of the prison industry.

    CCA calls itself ''the leader in out-of-state housing'' on its website. It operates 62 prisons and has thousands of surplus beds in other states that it is eager to fill with convicted felons, and Florida has the nation's third-largest prison system.

    A year ago, CCA urged the Legislature to follow 15 other states that export inmates, calling it ''cost-effective.'' The idea went nowhere, but that was before the bottom fell out of the economy and the state budget collapsed with a $6-billion shortfall.

    ''This is not a new issue,'' said CCA's Tallahassee lobbyist, Matt Bryan. ``This just gives the state another option to deal with a potential rapid influx of new inmates.''

    Bryan noted that building a new 1,300-bed prison costs about $100 million. Next year's budget will be the first in recent memory with no money set aside for new prison construction.

    Exporting inmates may never come to pass because Florida's inmate population has stabilized in recent months and has fallen below earlier projections. In fact, a new, 3,300-bed prison in rural Suwannee County is built but not yet fully open.

    The prison population was at about 101,000 this week and the bed capacity is about 106,000. The population fluctuates daily and is constantly affected by the need to move prisoners who have special needs or for disciplinary reasons.


    Corrections Secretary Walt McNeil is not enthusiastic about exporting prisoners. He said it undermines the goal of reducing recidivism by encouraging inmates to build ties to the communities they will return to upon their release from prison.

    The new law requires the Department of Corrections to take into account the proximity of an inmate's family before relocating the inmate.

    One possible category of exported prisoners is illegal immigrants. As of June 2008, Florida prisons held 5,523 inmates who were undocumented immigrants in the U.S. About 60 percent were in prison for violent crimes.


    The Florida Police Benevolent Association, a large and vocal union representing corrections officers, also opposes exporting inmates, partly because it would help the private prison industry the PBA has long opposed.

    ''Our preference would be to build public prisons and keep prisoners here in Florida,'' PBA's David Murrell said. ``When you start sending prisoners to other states, you're asking for trouble.''

    According to news reports, Idaho officials last year removed about 300 prisoners from a GEO Group-run Texas prison because of understaffing and lax supervision. In Maine, civil rights groups and inmate lawyers said a plan to ship inmates to Oklahoma was a burden to families and would increase recidivism.

    Steve Bousquet can be reached at

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