As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, October 04, 2007

At The Earliest Beginnings of Prison Reform

Today the Joint Economic Committee, composed of Senators Webb and Schumer along with New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney, held a hearing on certainly the most underappreciated issue facing America - our prison crisis. Here's part of Rep. Maloney's statement:

The United States has the highest incarceration rates in the world, with more than 2 million Americans currently in jails or prisons. Clearly, imprisonment benefits society and is an important public safety measure. But faced with an unprecedented increase in incarceration, we must ask ourselves whether we are striking the right balance between the costs and benefits of imprisonment.

Putting more resources into creating economic opportunities that provide alternatives to crime would pay dividends in reducing crime and incarceration, while also strengthening families and communities.

We all know that in the long run crime doesn’t pay, but it sure is costly. The average annual cost of incarceration for one federal prisoner exceeds $20,000 – far more than the average annual cost of $3,700 for a youth program, $6,000 for a job training program or the $13,000 for tuition at public universities.

There is no question that crime rates have dropped in the U.S. over the past decade. Researchers agree that the increase in incarceration rates have been driven by tougher sentences for repeat offenders and drug offenders, mandatory minimums, and a more punitive approach to post-release supervision, rather than an increase in crime.

These are precisely the problems that California faces, due to a complete failure of legislative leadership and a panoply of thousands of tougher sentencing laws. Today Dan Weintraub reports on the stirrings of a long-overdue reform of the system, before it's too late.

The Schwarzenegger administration, which has been cautious to a fault when it comes to prison reform, is tiptoeing back toward the idea of loosening restrictions on parolees who are good bets to stay out of trouble.

The program is starting with a trial run in Orange County, where ex-cons who are considered the lowest risks and then meet a series of benchmarks will be cut loose from state super- vision after six months instead of three years.

The idea is to give those parolees an incentive to get their lives back on stable ground shortly after they leave prison, which is when most felons return to a life of crime. Then, by letting them off parole early, the state figures it will be able to concentrate more resources on more-dangerous felons who need the most attention.

Parole reform is to prison reform as S-CHIP is to the broader health care issue. It's a baby step on the road to really making those tough decisions. But it's taken so long to get to this point, and change is being forced only through a crisis and a potential capping of the prison population, that I guess we have to be happy for what we get. There's going to be major pushback on this from the right (it's already happening on the Flush Report) so it's important that this under-the-radar issue gets attention and support.

Labels: , , ,