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Picking Up the Tab

A new report says state jails in Texas are ineffective, expensive, and actually result in higher recidivism rates than Texas prisons.The report from the Texas Public Policy Foundation suggests taxpayers are getting a bad deal on their tax dollars and public safety.The report’s author, Jeanette Moll, says through the research they have found state jails

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Punishment Doesn't Work

By Christopher Moraff / NextCity.orgImage courtesy shouselaw.com

There’s a reason it’s called corrections and not punishment,” Rick Raemisch said. “Punishment doesn’t work.”

Raemisch, who is executive director of Colorado’s Department of Corrections and was part of a panel discussion on prison reform hosted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice earlier this year, was responding to a question on retributive incarceration. Yet, despite that simple and profound statement, since the 1960s, the U.S. criminal justice system has taken on an increasingly Puritanical streak with mandatory minimum sentences, dozens of new classes of felony, and repeat offender laws.

Now, as part of an effort to reverse more than four decades of broken prison policy, several states are beginning to look overseas for alternative models.

In February 2013 (a year before Raemisch took over his position), his predecessor, Tom Clements, joined delegations from Pennsylvania and Georgia on a fact-finding trip to Germany and the Netherlands sponsored by the Vera Institute of Justice. Both countries have largely replaced retributive and deterrence models with one whose primary goal is reintegrating inmates back into society as law-abiding citizens.

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Why Overcrowded Prisons May Not Be a Priority for States

By Christopher Zoukis

Prison Overcrowding: A Cause Which has Terrible Effects

Overcrowded prisons represent a serious social and penological problem in the United States.  They’re a safety issue — putting a strain on prison employees, making it more difficult to monitor inmate behavior and control the wanton violence inside our nation’s prisons.  They’re a sanitary issue — potentially shoving inmates into even more dangerous, less desirable, and less humane conditions.  They also pose a rehabilitation issue, as less money can be spent on trying to help inmates resolve what ails them and further exasperating the damaging internal prison culture.

Even with all of these obvious problems, some states actually see prison overcrowding as a fiscal advantage.  A report released by the Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission claims that overcrowded prisons may actually save the states money, even if at the expense of reduced inmate misconduct, crime, and victimization.

Assuming the Same Prisoners, Costs Decrease

The average cost per inmate in Ohio is about $60 per day.  This cost includes staffing, maintenance, and other expenses that occur when operating a prison.  Sixty dollars per day adds up very quickly and costs the state millions of dollars every year, many millions.

For every open bunk in prison, the state of Ohio saves roughly $60 (slightly less, but the number varies depending on the prison’s population versus operational capacity).  This would indicate that it is in the state’s best interest to avoid overcrowding.  After all, every open bunk is a revolving expense that fulfills no purpose.

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Rethinking Illinois’ Truth-In-Sentencing Law

By Joseph Dole 

Many are aware of the dire fiscal state that Illinois currently finds itself in. One of the main causes of this has been years of passing laws without any consideration of the financial burdens of their enactment, and one of the most egregious examples concerns Illinois’ Truth-in-Sentencing law.

Truth-in-Sentencing in Illinois requires that nearly all violent offenders serve 85 to 100 percent of their criminal sentences.  Prior to the current Truth-in-Sentencing law’s 1998 enactment, offenders served, on average, 44 percent of their sentences.  For more than a decade Illinois resisted enacting a Truth-in-Sentencing law when other states rushed to do so.  Instead, Illinois increased sentencing ranges for violent crimes.  The State didn’t pass its Truth-in-Sentencing law until after the federal government monetarily incentivized Truth-in-Sentencing legislation.  Although this legislation was enacted in Illinois over a decade-and-a-half ago, not a single comprehensive cost/benefit analysis has been undertaken to determine what monetary effect enactment has had on the State.

Other states that enacted Truth-in-Sentencing legislation adjusted for it by reducing sentences so the average imposed sentence was about half of what it was before enactment.  That way prisoners ended up serving around the same amount of time in prison and didn’t cost the state additional money.  Illinois, on the other hand, failed to make such an adjustment.  Instead, Illinois judges actually increased average sentences imposed or continued issuing similar criminal sentences, which resulted in longer terms of incarceration due to the newly mandated Truth-in-Sentencing good conduct time provisions.  With the sentencing ranges having already been increased, Illinois taxpayers have continued to be hit twice as hard: once for the existing sentencing scheme and effectively again due to the Truth-in-Sentencing legislation.

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