Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Missouri may join list of states reducing inmate numbers, closing prisons

I've argued that to cut 5% or more from Texas' prison budget would require additional policy changes to reduce inmate populations, not just slashing prison or community supervision budgets. So I was interested to see Missouri's Legislature considering policy reforms to reduce its prison expenses. Here's an excerpt from AP ("Missouri senators advance effort to shrink prison population," April 14):
Missouri's budget problems have prompted lawmakers to consider steering some people convicted of such lesser felonies as knowingly damaging property by burning and sexual misconduct with a child into treatment or probation programs, rather than prison.

The Missouri Senate gave first-round approval Tuesday to a bill that would bar prison officials from housing people convicted of the least severe state felonies unless the offender has two previous felony convictions. The plan is expected to save the state millions of dollars.

Those convicted of certain higher level felonies -- including forgery, passing bad checks, drug possession and identity theft involving less than $5,000 -- also could not be held in state prisons unless they have a previous felony conviction.

Instead, offenders would be directed to treatment programs such as special drug and drunken-driving courts, given probation or sent to county jails.

Missouri lawmakers are seeking to cut hundreds of millions from the state budget because of falling state revenue. The idea of shrinking the state's prison populations was considered last month when the Senate spent the day informally discussing various ideas to overhaul state government.

Sponsoring Sen. Matt Bartle said the bill is designed to trim Missouri's prison population by 2,000 people over the next two years. He estimates it could save $26 million in part by allowing a state prison to be closed. Currently, Missouri incarcerates about 30,000 people.

"The prison system isn't free," said Bartle, R-Lee's Summit. "It costs people money and decisions have to be made. Triage has to be made."

The legislation also allows the state parole board to release nonviolent offenders who are admitted into special drug or drunken-driving programs if agreed to by prosecutors. ...

The savings from the legislation's changes would be split. Half would be kept by the state and turned into general revenue that can be used for other state programs. One-sixth would go each to the Department of Corrections for community supervision, trial courts, and counties to house people convicted of the lesser felonies who are then sentenced to jail.
MORE: On the Missouri proposal.

See related recent posts


kaptinemo said...

That soft but inexorable 'squeak-squeak-squeak' sound you're hearing is the quarter-turns of the screw being applied to the justice system by the economy.

The party's over; the War on Drugs was foolishly predicated on two basic beliefs. The first being that somehow the War on Drugs would pay for itself with forfeiture. Obviously it cannot, despite over 20 years of trying, simply because of economies of scale. If a big-shot cartel can afford to lose TONS of drugs in a single captured shipment, and the price, purity and quantity is unaffected overall, then forfeiture is a bad joke.

The second false premise was that the DrugWar would be unaffected by basic economic principles, i.e. boom-bust cycles. We now know that much of the economy was run on last time, just before the Great Depression. And, just like then, the bubble burst. Now the reality of not being able to pay for the DrugWar's vastly mushroomed infrastructure is becoming ever clearer.

As a friend of mine puts it, "It's karma-uppance time." Time to pay up after the binge, and we've got no money. That fiscal belt everyone is talking about is gonna have to have some fresh new notches punched in it real soon...

Anonymous said...

Passing laws against what people want to do doesn't make any sense. That just causes people to be in prison and we all have to pay for it. As people's habits change, fewer people are willing to go along with the old ways of doing things so we have to go along with the changes.

If people don't support the laws anymore then what is the purpose of the laws? The strong have always dominated the weak so the weak need to learn to defend themselves.

Anonymous said...

I wish Texas would adopt this-- they dont even send inmates with dwi's to treatment before they are released; they dont rehab bad check passers by giving them financial classes and teaching them to handle their finances, they don't counsel anyone-- they just KEEP them and feed them food I would not serve to my dog!