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.