Saturday, April 4, 2009

Wait Listed By Jail-5

"For nearly three decades, most states have dealt with lawbreakers in two ways: lock more of them up for longer periods, and build more prisons to hold them. Now many governments, out of money and buried under mounting prison costs, are reversing those policies and practices. ... Michigan is doing a little of all of this, in addition to freeing some offenders who have yet to serve their maximum sentence. ... But the economic crisis is forcing [lawmakers] to take a more pragmatic approach as prisoners are increasingly seen less as indistinct wrongdoers and more as expenses that must be reined in. 'When state budgets are flush,' said Barry Kinsberg, president of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, 'prisons are something governors and legislators all support, and they don't want to touch sentencing reform. But when dollars are as tight as they are now, you have to make really tough choices. And so now things are in play.' ... In the past 20 years, correction department budgets have quadrupled and are outpacing every major spending area outside health care, according to a recent report by the Pew Center on the States. With 7.3 million Americans in prison, on parole or under probation, states spent $47 billion in 2008, the study said. ... In California, where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has called for $400 million to be cut from the state's corrections budget, officials are seeking to remove low-level drug offenders from the parole supervision system and to provide them treatment options instead. ... 'In California, we are out of room and we're out of money,' said the state's corrections secretary, Matthew Cate. 'It may be time to take some of these steps that we should have taken long ago.' ... Several states are also looking at sentencing itself. In New York, for example, Gov. David A. Patterson, a Democrat, has proposed an overhaul of the so-called Rockefeller drug laws that impose lengthy mandatory sentences on many nonviolent drug offenders", my emphasis, Jennifer Steinhauer at the NYT, 25 March 2009, link:

Laugh if you want. Absent repealing our drug laws, as Uncle Miltie suggested over 40 years ago, we will have waiting lists for jail. We probably have them in some states today. Who knew prisons are a "luxury" good? Do you still want to own muni bands?

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