States may release prisoners early to keep budgets in check
According to an Associated Press estimate, about eight states are considering freeing inmates or sending selected convicts to diversion programs instead of the lockup.
In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed the early furlough of about 22,000 inmates and eliminating about 4,500 prison guard positions to help trim $400 million from the budget of the Golden State’s corrections department.
Meanwhile, in Florida, state legislators are aiming to reduce state spending by about $5 billion in the coming year’s budget. The reason? Florida’s tax revenues continue to decline due to the state’s slumping economy. As part of the discussions, the Florida state Senate has proposed eliminating 2,200 positions in the Department of Corrections’ budget; that would equal about 8 percent of the department’s work force. Those cuts in the work force could lead to the early release of inmates under a federal court order that prohibits overcrowding.
In Ohio, the state is looking at housing more inmates in community-based halfway houses and similar-structured residential treatment centers, rather than renovating old facilities. A recent study that looked into whether the antiquated 95-year-old Lima Correctional Institution should be renovated and reopened found that renovation costs would be prohibitive. Building a new facility to replace the 1,565-bed Lima facility would cost $229 million, the study noted. A less expensive option, according to the Lima report: Create 750 beds for inmates in community facilities at a price tag of just $2 million.
In 2007, states spent more than $49 billion on corrections, up from $11 billion just 20 years ago, according to estimates in a report by the Pew Center on the States’ Public Safety Performance Project. The Pew Center’s report, “One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008,” estimated that 36 states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons all saw their prison populations increase in 2007.
According to the Pew Center, the U.S. prison population is projected to increase by 192,000 inmates by 2011. To download the Pew Center report, click here.