For three decades, state and local governments built and filled jails to make good on promises to get tough on crime. Now, the recession and collapsing budgets are forcing an about face.IMO prison and jail capacity fundamentally determines incarceration rates. Whenever Legislatures construct more prisons, the justice system fills up however many beds they create. If you build it, they will come. So states actually reducing capacity seems like an extraordinary development, definitely a moment of departure from the last 30 years' carceral trends.
Prisons are one of the biggest single line items in many state budgets, in part because nearly five times as many people are now behind bars as in the 1970s. From California to New York, officials are now closing penitentiaries and releasing inmates early. At least 26 states have cut corrections spending in fiscal year 2010, and at least 17 are closing prisons or reducing their inmate populations, according to the Vera Institute on Justice, a criminal-justice reform organization in New York.
RELATED: From the LA Times, "Cash-strapped states revise laws to get inmates out." MORE: For blog coverage from two states currently cutting prison budgets, see California Corrections Crisis and Think Outside the Cage out of Colorado.