From sea to shining sea, budget problems are plaguing states struggling
to recover from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
Lawmakers who had for years collected votes for being tough on crime are
now backtracking and looking for ways to cut prison costs by letting inmates
South Carolina is letting people convicted of
illegal drug sales out early, along with burglars and writers of bad checks in an effort
to slash prison rolls by eight percent. Michigan has closed 20 corrections
centers and cut spending by seven percent.
Oklahoma is working on plans to divert thousands of nonviolent offenders
away from prisons while also accelerating the early releases of others.
Georgia, California, Illinois, Colorado, Oregon and Wisconsin are also
cutting or trying to cut prison spending by releasing prisoners early.
Even Texas, long known for its enormous prison system and tough-on-crime
approach has backtracked. Its prison system is under maximum capacity
for the first time in years.
Adam Gelb, a policy expert with the Pew Center on States, says "there
has been a dramatic shift" among lawmakers.
"The old question was simply, how do I demonstrate that I'm tough
on crime?" he said. Now legislators are forced to ask "a much
better question: How do I get taxpayers a better public safety return
on their corrections dollars?"
An Oklahoma state senator admitted that "truthfully, it's popular
to be tough on crime." But when forced by budget problems to reexamine
who is incarcerated and why, he came to the realization that the crime
problem is not "exactly like [I] thought."
And so politicians across the country are being weaned from a tried and
true method of getting votes: making punishments tougher and prison sentences
longer. They're realizing that simply locking people up and throwing
away the key is too heavy of a price for society to pay.
Resource: Chicago Tribune: "GOP lawmakers paying price for tough-on-crime laws":
February 7, 2011