Friday, April 15, 2011

The Cautionary Instruction: Crowded Prison and Soaring Costs

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Ipso Facto
April 15, 2011

A 2010 report by the Pew Center on the States revealed a decline in prison population for the first time in 38 years.

That is good news considering between 1972 and 2010 prison population increased 705 percent. The bad news is that as of January 31, 2011, Pennsylvania had approximately 51,273 inmates and added more new inmates than any other state in the report.

As a result of continued prison growth, Pennsylvania’s corrections funding increased by 4.49 percent in 2010, second nationwide to only Wyoming and West Virginia.

Here is what some states are doing to deal with crowded prisons and growing costs:

-- California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed into law a measure that will transfer 30,000 low-level offenders to county jails over the next three years. The measure is yet unfunded and looks more like a transfer of responsibility than a genuine effort to get at the problem of over incarceration. California has 152,000 inmates in state prison.

-- Florida’s new Governor Rick Scott promised to cut prison spending by $1 billion and has proposed more spending on drug and alcohol treatment.

-- Alabama’s legislature was told to find a way to reduce the state’s prison population by 3,000 inmates to bring the corrections budget in line with Governor Robert Bentley‘s proposed budget.

-- Ohio Governor John Kasich has proposed selling off three to five state prisons to private entities who will manage those prisons. Ohio's prison inmate population has grown by more than 500 percent since 1972 and is projected to soar to 53,992 by July if proposed sentencing changes and alternatives to punishment are not addressed by the legislature.

-- Iowa, like Pennsylvania, intends to build more prisons. The prison population in Iowa is 23 percent over capacity. Iowa’s nine prisons have a capacity of 7,209 but currently house 8,883 inmates. All of Iowa's prisons are over capacity.

Although there appears to be as many plans to deal with prison costs as there are states with prisons, a handful of states have adopted meaningful reform. Without increasing recidivism, Michigan reduced its prison population by 6,500 inmates and Texas reduced its corrections cost by $210 million. Kansas, Nevada, New Jersey and Georgia have reduced prison costs through a mix of re-entry services and responsible sentence reductions.


Sherlock said...

There's much more that should be explained here.

In Ohio, Governor John Kasich has taken a huge amount of contributions from Charles de Ganahl Koch and other supporters of the for-profit prison industry, as well as from the industry itself and has appointed a director of corrections straight out of that corrupt industry. He is trying to sell five state prisons for about 40 cents on the dollar. This would be a half-billion dollar subsidy to an industry that has proven it can't operate prisons safely or economically.

Governor Rick Scott is doing something very similar in Florida. He has taken huge contributions from the above players and has industry insiders in his administration. He is trying to massively privatize state corrections for the benefit of corporations that have been caught stealing millions from the state.

Kansas has substantially reduced its prison population, but it is rising again thanks to "penny wise, pound foolish" conservative legislators and the private prison industry which lobbied for tougher sentences to assure that the state prison population rose, enhancing their chances to build there.

Governor Tom Corbett, rather than introducing sentencing reform and improving parole procedures to reduce recidivism, is trying to privatize state prison forensic units to throw a bone to his campaign contributors.

Georgia has reduced prison costs by stuffing prisoners into vastly overcrowded for-profit prisons, condemned by a variety of religious denominations, and closing state prisons. Election contributions are again at play.

Pennsylvanians should reject such initiatives. Haven't they been subjected to enough in recent years? There was the juvenile rape factory in Berks County operated by Cornell Corrections (now part of GEO Group), the death factory at the Delaware County jail operated by GEO and the escape factory operated by Community Education Centers after GEO dumped its contract. The Luzerne County "Kids for Cash" bribery scandal stayed in the nation's headlines for over a year and the two judges responsible are now doing time.

Californians were glad to see the departure of failed Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger, who expanded the prison population and shipped prisoners to poorly run, for-profit prisons outside the state and far from their homes, making recidivism a virtual certainty. Jerry Brown is trying to reduce the number of prisoners and enhance their reintegration into society through rational measures.

Billionaires David H. Koch and his brother Charles have supplied the campaign financing and "independent" expenditures that have made this privatization possible. They think it will lower their taxes despite decades of research to the contrary.

The Kochs and their money have also been the major national influence in the attempt to silence the voices of working people by destroying public employee unions. Directly and working through front groups, they have financed similar campaigns in many other states as well, such as Louisiana, where Governor Piyush Jindal is trying to sell five prisons at fire sale prices, and in Maine, where Governor Paul LePage has recruited a Director of Corrections directly from the for-profit industry.

One hopes the Gazette will examine that larger picture.
Who would have guessed?

The Florida Republican party reported a $50,000 contribution from the GEO Group on March 24, 2011, just days before a plan surfaced to privatize prisons in South Florida. GEO is a top contender for the contract.

From: The Florida Independent

Anonymous said...

I've lost faith in just punishment based on crime committed. Do not agree in breaking laws but many laws broken may certainly have better policies than incarceration. It's become a business. Rehabilitation. There especially isn't such programs in pennsylvania's county prisons. Simply wasted, non productive time while non violent offenders, majority in because of probation violations and they are on probation for underage drinking (didn't say drinking and driving, personal amount of marijuana and or paraphernalia charges), trying to Keep their heads above water and pride in tact. Sad how many of these people come out afraid to even jay walk for that could technically give their PO a reason to violate and re-incarcerate keeping young men and women stuck in the system.

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