About two years ago, I attended a focused two-day seminar on incarceration-and-release issues. The goal of the host organization—the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York—was to educate journalists with legal “beats” more about prison and sentencing topics.
It was held in Reno, Nevada, and I was pleased to have been invited. The panel topics and the speakers were well selected and compelling. And, before you think otherwise, the speakers were not all from one-side of the street. There was much disagreement, and we were not just subjected to “all blue” or “all red” viewpoints. In fact, among the panelists (and in attendance for the entire conference) were the Chief Justice of the Nevada Supreme Court, James Hardesty, and the Director the Nevada Department of Corrections, Howard Skolnik. Not a softie in the bunch.
Since then, Americans have been inundated with incarceration and release coverage. Maybe it’s the bad economy forcing difficult choices. Or maybe it’s a growing unease at the massive numbers of our citizens who are behind bars.
We cover the topic occasionally. For instance, earlier this year we wrote about a new book, Sunbelt Justice, that dissects Arizona’s incarceration system.
But the topic is an incendiary one. We got a letter of strong dislike for our efforts.
Today, another interesting study was released suggesting there may be solutions afoot (see release below). And the report is available online here.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 2, 2010
States can safely reduce prison populations and save money, new brief says
Reducing prison populations and maintaining public safety can both be accomplished while allowing state taxpayers to save money with more effective programs, group says.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — States should use innovative and evidence-based strategies to trim their prison populations, reduce the likelihood that a released person will return to prison and send fewer people to prison in the first place according to research released today by the Justice Policy Institute (JPI). With many states facing budget crises, important decisions are being made about where money will and will not be spent. JPI found that increasing opportunities for parole and improving parole release decisions, improving parole supervision and ensuring access to support and treatment services are cost-effective means of cutting extraneous spending while maintaining public safety. In FY2008, states spent $52 billion on corrections, money that could be spent on infrastructure, education, housing and job creation, the group says.
“Increasing the availability of parole and making better decisions about who is released is smart policy,” said Tracy Velázquez, executive director of JPI. “Options such as medical parole and geriatric release would yield tremendous monetary benefits, ensure people receive the services they need and would not be a detriment to public safety. States could in turn refocus savings toward crucial social services to help prevent people from entering prison in the first place.”
According to For Immediate Release: How to Safely Reduce Prison Populations and Support People Returning to Their Communities released today by JPI, incarceration costs significantly less than parole supervision and some states are using innovative methods of supervision that are yielding positive results. As spending more time in prison does not equate to more public safety, releasing people early with appropriate supervision can be an effective way of reducing prison populations.
Velázquez added, “The notion that there is a public safety trade-off when shifting public dollars from prisons to positive, pro-social investments is false and has contributed to destructive policies that have given the United States the world’s largest incarceration rate and continue to disproportionately impact communities of color. Releasing people deemed ‘low risk’ to community supervision and providing adequate treatment and support services will improve outcomes and strengthen families and communities.”
The Justice Policy Institute (JPI) is a Washington, D.C.-based organization dedicated to reducing society’s use of incarceration and promoting just and effective social policies.