Thursday, July 30, 2009

Corrections second behind Medicaid in sources of state budget growth

A new report (pdf) by the Vera Institute says 22 states have cut funding for corrections because of the current economic crisis. Here's the abstract:
States across the United States are facing the worst fiscal crisis in years. All but two states are dealing with budget deficits, and spending is being cut across the board. Second only to Medicaid, corrections has become the fastest growing general fund expenditure in the United States. Considered off limits for many years, corrections budgets are now subject to these same cuts. Based on a survey of enacted FY2010 state budgets and other recent sentencing and corrections legislation, this new report from Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections found that at least 22 states have reversed the trend of recent decades and cut funding for corrections. This report examines the form of these cuts, including reductions in operational costs, reforms in release policy, and strategies for reducing recidivism, and it highlights some of the innovations that states are pursuing for long-term savings while also maintaining public safety.
The paper's introduction continues in this vein, predicting the need to find savings in corrections budgets won't just be a short-term issue:
Given that current state budget deficits are expected to continue and possibly increase over the coming years, states will need to continue to find ways to control corrections costs. Each year, the decisions will become more difficult. Management strategies may extend operating efficiencies, but the resulting cost savings are likely to fall short of what states will need to make ends meet. When deeper cuts are required, states will have to shift expenditures from costly prisons to far more economical investments in community corrections and confront controversial questions about which people really need to go to prison and how long they should stay. State governments are beginning to rise to the challenge of cutting corrections costs while maintaining or even boosting public safety. This paper highlights some of the innovative and creative ways they are doing so.
See the full report (pdf).


Anonymous said...

Of course two of the primary drivers of both prison populations and the budget crisis in corrections are:

a. The failure to provide a range of effective reentry support programs and services to those returning from prison (about 30,000 in Texas each year, 700,000 nationally).

b. The highly destructive, expensive and ineffective War on Drug is filling our prisons with offenders carrying long sentences. The Drug War fails on every policy level because it uses criminal justice policies to address a health and education problem.

The PEW report correctly advocates a shift toward evidence based policies and openly addresses the need for expanded reentry programs. However, it ignores the other driving source of the problem -- the war on drugs.

If we are going to focus on evidence based policies we need to keep all options on the table -- not remove those that are politically difficult or unpopular.

sunray's wench said...

If you end the "War on Drugs", then wont the Medicaid costs go even higher?

Anonymous said...


I am not sure what you meam by your question that "If we end the War on Drugs, won't the Medicaid costs go up?"

If you mean that use rates will dramatically increase and that demand for emergency care or adverse health impacts will go up -- there is no evidence to support such an assertion. In fact the evidence goes in the opposite direction. Legal and regulated access to currently ilicit drugs is associated with lower use rates and lower adverse health impacts (i.e., see any nation with legalized or decriminalized access to illegal drugs; also, see the US history with alcohol use rates and health impacts).

The reason for these counterintuitive findings is that prohibition is drives up potentcy; drives up the use of adulterants; provides no control over access, potency, or purity; and, delivers control of these substances into the hands of criminal syndicates that use violence as a means social control and conflict resolution within the black market.

In short, everything we would say we want - low drug use, less adverse health impacts, and lower crime is associated with legalized and regulated access.

Prohibition cause an incredible array of adverse social consequences that worsen the problem at every level. Put simply -- the War on Drugs is far more destructive than the drugs they seek to prohibit.

We are seeing the consequences in the 2.3 million people in prison or jail (at the federal level about 60% of the prison population are imprisoned for a drug defined crime as the primary confining offense; at state level the proportions run between from about 30% to slightly less than 50%). At every level the evidence goes against continuation of the War on Drugs.

sunray's wench said...

Doesn't this rather assume though that everyone on drugs will be able to control their habit because it will be legal, and as such will be able to cover the costs with any job they might be holding down? That goes against what we often see to be the case, in that once hooked, an addiction is not at all controlable. It leads the user into other illegal activity (many of those doing time for robbery etc did the crimes to feed a drug habit), which could be argued to have a far greater impact on society.

And lets look at a legal drug for a moment shall we, like alcohol. Plenty of alcoholics using up your Medicaid dollars because of direct and indirect health care consequences of not being able to keep their legal addiction in control.

Legalising something doesn't necessarily make the problem go away.

Anonymous said...

Sunray, don't forget if we can get some of these drug users to die earlier we can save on Social Security and Medicare costs.

Anonymous said...


Your point is well taken. But assumes that there are no downsides or less destructive downsides to the War on Drugs.

As you note there are health problems associated with the intermittent use and dependent use of legal drugs. But would we be better off if alcohol or tobacco were criminalized? Would we have less or more health problems? Would we have less or more crime and violence? Would we have less or more deaths? Would we have less or more powerful drug cartels?

There are potential downsides to any policy -- the question is on balance where are there the least destructive downsides. This is a case where the clear winner on the most destructive outcomes is with what we are doing -- prohibition. By any measure it far more destructive than legalized and regulated access to adults could ever be. No place where there has been a shift away from criminalization (decriminalization or legalization) is there evidence of worse outcomes. Quite the contrary the outcomes for health, crime, violence, and drug use are better by a large degree than that produced by prohibition policies.

You are right legalizing something does not make all problems go away. But, criminalizing something (or keeping it criminalized) sure can create a lot of problems.

Legalized and regulated access to adults would sure change the nature of the problems we have to deal with -- it is likely to reduce use rates, decrease crime, and decrease adverse health outcomes associated with drug use. Isn't that what you want?

Doing what we have been doing for over 130 years with prohibition has not produced these outcomes -- instead this ideologically driven policy has produced an incredible array of destructive outcome.

Such a change would also allow our justice system to focus on criminal justice problems rather than expending about $70-90 billion/year trying to do the impossible -- solve a health problem with criminal justice policy.

It is largely because of our drug laws and the destructive things done in the name of the War on Drugs that respect for law and police has been dramatically undercut over the last 30 years. Roughly 150 million people (half the population) have at some time in their lives used an illegal substance - if caught all of them could have been in jail or prison. The rough estimates of current users (i.e., in the last month) is somewhere between 20 and 25 million people (about 12-15% of the population).

This a serious health problem that cannot be dealt with using criminal justice policy.

Anonymous said...


Look at the definition of addiction as opposed to abuse. Not every one who uses drugs becomes or is an addict, which I agree cannot stop using with out help. I realize we have been told lies that there are gateway drugs and some are so powerful that a few uses's make you do other crimes. The studies that are cited do not stand up to real evaluation. (Unless your paying my grant for a study to come to a for gone conclusion.) Any more than the correlation between asphalt laying and beer consumption. Both increase during the summer, but are they related? Depending on which government study you cite, there are between 20 and 50 million part time drug users in this country. They can't all be addicted and doing other crimes.

Anonymous said...

1:37 said

The rough estimates of current users (i.e., in the last month) is somewhere between 20 and 25 million people (about 12-15% of the population).

I saw a repodt by the customs that placed the high figure closer to 50million current users. 25 or 50 million do we really think you can try to lock that many people up in this day and age.

Anonymous said...

According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy roughly 75% of current users (i.e., used within the last month) were fully employed, and paid for their drug of choice with legally earned money. That is they did not commit crimes to get the funds to support their drug use.

As for the number of users the 20-25 million is for current users (within the last 30 days) the higher number of 50 million usually represents those who have used within the last year.

Most users are intermittent users or highly structured users who do not become dependent and their use does not escalate. They go to work, pay their taxes, pay their bills, and raise their kids. But on a Friday or Saturday evening or at a party the use an illegal drug -- perhaps at the same time I may have a scotch or margarita.

Anonymous said...

Sunray - remember that contraband drugs are available in prison.

Also remember that health care costs represent a very large part of prison costs.

Anonymous said...

Those numbers are not true in Texas. The prison system is not near the biggest cost.

Here is the Texas State Budget break down for the next two year:

Education 41.4%
Health and Human Services 29.1%
Business and Economic Development 11.4%
Public Safety and Corrections 5.9%

The article appears to be focusing on another state where they spend more on their prison system than Texas does. The Texas Legislature could care less about investing in the Texas prison system. They would rather have offenders become wards of the state, than to reform them into productive citizens.

If anything is true, Texas does not invest enough funds in their prisons to professionally staff them correctly, and implement successful education, counseling, training, and reentry programs.

Texas could fund these programs and professional staff their prisons if they would cut back on contract beds and parole some of these non-aggravated offenders companies like Geo Group, CCA, MTC, and Civigenics have lobbied our politicians to keep locked up. One fact remains true about Texas, there is an extremely high incarceration per population ratio locked up compared to other states.

- Lance