Tuesday, July 31, 2007

States Export Their Inmates as Prisons Fill

Prison overcrowding has corrections officials in at least eight states looking across state lines for scarce prison beds.

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Crime rates dropped during the 90s, but rates of incarceration continued to climb. Criminologists attribute the decline to items such as demographics, the economy, and others, but the incarcerate rate explains very little of the decline in reported crime. Now that crime rates are inching upwards, what will policy makers do?

The proportion of state budgets that go to corrections has been increasing, but at the expense of education and health and welfare budgets. Now that the population is aging, and making more demands on health and welfare budgets, where will governors and legislators turn to deal with the problem of crime?

One suggestion is to review sentencing plans and to set priorities for incarceration. Can we continue to use crime as a political issue without bankrupting state budgets? In other words, prison sentences should be ties to legitimate outcomes that are constantly evaluated and revised. Can we afford to incarcerate certain categories of offenders, such as drug and property offenders, when viable community alternatives are available? Should we not save prison space for high priority, dangerous offenders?

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