community Service means Business!

20 December 2009

Notable prediction that prison population may decline in 2009

via Sentencing Law and Policy by Doug B. on 12/20/09

This AP article speculates, perhaps accurately, that the total US prison population may decline in 2009 for the first time in decades.  Here are the details from the article:

The United States may soon see its prison population drop for the first time in almost four decades, a milestone in a nation that locks up more people than any other.

The inmate population has risen steadily since the early 1970s as states adopted get-tough policies that sent more people to prison and kept them there longer. But tight budgets now have states rethinking these policies and the costs that come with them....

The U.S. prison population dropped steadily during most of the 1960s, and there were a few small dips in 1970 and 1972. But it has risen every year since, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics....

In the past, prison populations have been lower when drafts were enacted, including during World War II and the wars in Korea and Vietnam. "People who go to war are young men, and young men are the most likely to get arrested or prosecuted," said James Austin, president of the JFA Institute, a research organization that advises states on prison issues. The ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan haven't involved in a draft.

Instead, the economic crisis forced states to reconsider who they put behind bars and how long they kept them there, said Kim English, research director for the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice.

In Texas, parole rates were once among the lowest in the nation, with as few as 15 percent of inmates being granted release as recently as five years ago. Now, the parole rate is more than 30 percent after Texas began identifying low-risk candidates for parole.

In Mississippi, a truth-in-sentencing law required drug offenders to serve 85 percent of their sentences. That's been reduced to less than 25 percent.

California's budget problems are expected to result in the release of 37,000 inmates in the next two years. The state also is under a federal court order to shed 40,000 inmates because its prisons are so overcrowded that they are no longer constitutional, Austin said.

States also are looking at ways to keep people from ever entering prison. A nationwide system of drug courts takes first-time felony offenders caught with less than a gram of illegal drugs and sets up a monitoring team to help with case management and therapy....

The reforms in many state prisons and courts come even as crime rates continue to drop nationwide. "It's economically driven, but the science is there to support it," Austin said. "They are saving money, but not doing it in a way that jeopardizes public safety." One exception to the trend is Florida, which has enacted a law requiring all convicts to serve a high percentage of their sentences. The law is straining the state's prison resources. "They know that they are stuck in a time bomb they can't get out of," Austin said.

Posted via email from the Un-Official Southwestern PA Re-Entry Coalition Blog

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