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article imageU.S. States Cutting Prison Sentences

By Andrew Moran     Jul 14, 2009 in Crime
During these tough economic times, everyone is cutting back including state prisons. Many U.S. states are studying alternative ways of punishing nonviolent criminals. Probation and parole are leading the way.
Many states across the U.S. are now going to cut prison sentences and find other less costly alternative ways of punishing criminals. Streamlined probation and parole are leading the way for different incarcerations.
Before the economic collapse, alternative sentencing received little funding and a small amount of attention but now it has gained popularity among lawmakers and constituents in a lot of states.
Such alternative methods include: drug courts, which would allow minor drug offenders receive treatment and intervention by judges on a weekly basis instead of imprisonment. Another measure is to not imprison people who are driving under the influence of alcohol and instead they attend alcohol-treatment classes and submit to random tests.
According to Adam Gelb, Director of Public Safety Performance Project for the Pew Center on the States, it costs $79 per day to keep an inmate in prison, while it costs $3.50 per day to monitor them during their probation and or parole, “The economy is bringing a lot of states to the table and the research has pointed to a path for them to more public safety at less cost.”
Carol Wicklund, Executive Director of the American Probation and Parole Association, based in Lexington, Kentucky, is skeptical of this new measure, “I don't think a lot of what's happening is being done for altruistic reasons. I think it's an economics-driven shift.”
Maryland and Virginia are, or at least trying to, adopting this new system. Maryland has made significant community investments in community-based corrections drug treatment programs. Virginia is studying alternative sentencing for nonviolent offenders and for many years they abolished parole.
Texas has also been embracing these new policies. From 1978 to 2004, inmate population rose by 573 percent. In the nation alone, inmate population has risen 2.6%, or two million people. The state has 155,000 inmates and leads the nation in death sentencing. However, Texas is one of the cash-strapped states. By 2012 it would cost the state an extra $1 billion to maintain the current system and, at the rate of imprisonment, would have to build eight new prisons and 17,000 more beds.
But State Representative Jerry Madden said, “I started asking questions. You either got to slow 'em going in, or speed 'em going out. And Texas is not a state that says, 'Speed 'em up going out.'” Mr. Madden added that he had spoken to both Conservative and Liberal think tank groups, “When it came to prison ideas that work, they all agreed.”
In 2007, the state had increased funding for drug and DWI courts and shortened the probation time from ten down to five years. Also, Texas increased its probation rate from twenty-six percent up to thirty-one percent.
C. West Huddleston, Chief Executive of the Alexandria-based National Association of Drug Court Professionals, said, “Texas is a remarkable example of how to take control of an explosive prison population. If Texas can do it, any state can do it.”
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