Tuesday, April 5, 2011

States Scramble to Reduce Criminal Justice Costs

The 2010 mid-term elections put Republicans in control of 25 state legislatures and 29 governor's offices, and many have pledged not to raise taxes even as they face budget shortfalls. According to the Denver Post, Republican governors and lawmakers pushed for many of the policies that put low-level drug offenders and nonviolent felons behind bars and extended sentences for many convicted criminals.

Now that GOP are in control of financially strapped state governments, a growing number of Republican elected officials favor a review of sentencing laws that contributed to a fourfold increase in prison costs over two decades. The Post reported that the total cost of incarcerating state inmates swelled from $12 billion in 1988 to more than $50billion by 2008.

The Post chronicled four of the 44 states that will experience a budget shortfall in 2012 and how those states intend to deal with sky-rocketing criminal justice costs:

In Florida, lawmakers are considering an overhaul to help close a $3.6 billion shortfall. The state's new governor, Republican Rick Scott, campaigned on a promise to cut prison spending by $1 billion and has since proposed more money to fight drug and alcohol abuse.

Georgia's newly elected Republican governor, Nathan Deal, didn't talk much about the state's high incarceration rates during his 2010 campaign, but he turned sentencing reform into one of his major platforms once he took office. Leaders from all three branches of Georgia state government—and both political parties—appeared together to back a study of reforms that would provide alternative sentences for nonviolent offenders and reduce prison costs. Legislation to create a commission that would rewrite the state's sentencing laws is moving through the statehouse.

In Kentucky, lawmakers from both parties are touting a new law that would bolster treatment programs and offer alternative sentences to keep more nonviolent criminals from prisons. After the state's Republican-led Senate and Democratic-controlled House passed the legislation, Democratic Governor Steve Beshear signed it into law in early March, saying it enables the "state to continue to be tough on crime but at the same time to be smarter about it."

California runs the nation's largest state prison system, with 152,000 inmates, and is under a federal court order to reduce its inmate population as a way to improve medical treatment. It primarily has done so by shipping more than 10,000 inmates to prisons out of state. Last week, lawmakers sent newly elected Governor Jerry Brown a bill, at his request, that would shift tens of thousands of lower-level offenders to counties' jurisdiction, a move designed to save the state money.

To read more: http://www.denverpost.com/breakingnewsold/ci_17758680#ixzz1IbZ5OuDK

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