Friday, March 5, 2010

Fear versus Rationality

In the rush to save money in grim budgetary times, states nationwide have trimmed their prison populations by expanding parole programs and early releases. But the result — more convicted felons on the streets, not behind bars — has unleashed a backlash, and state officials now find themselves trying to maneuver between saving money and maintaining the public’s sense of safety.


Because of the budget crisis and because of the crowding issues that existed prior to the recession, 19 states are lowering the number of people incarcerated. So far, the data from several of these states would suggest that these releases have not increased reported crime rates. 

So the appeal to fear by prosecutors and so-called anti-crime organizations  is largely pandering. That is not to say that states have to be cautious about who is released. Keep in mind that over 90 percent of inmates will be released eventually. Release and recidivism problems again turn on the fact that far too many people are sentenced to probation and too many may be released on parole too quickly. Community corrections are overwhelmed already without the new additions. States need to add new community programs that maximize the probabilities of a successful release from prison.

It is inevitable that some former inmates will fail. Many will not have received adequate treatment while incarcerated. Case loads of probation and parole officers make supervision problematic. Thus states do have to exercise caution in releasing inmates. But the appeal to fear in order to gain a political advantage is abhorrent to reason and to fact.

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