Is It “Politically Safe” To Save Money On Non-Prison Rehab?


State governments are now spending more than $40 billion per year on prisons – five times as much as during the mid-1980s, says Governing magazine. Corrections departments have become the largest public employers in many states; a few spend more on corrections than on higher education. Nearly every state has stepped up its efforts to prepare prisoners for release, hoping that at least some of them will gain the skills and attitude necessary to avoid coming back. The word “rehabilitation” is still too charged to return to broad use. The new buzzword is “reentry,” a term that acknowledges that most inmates will return to their communities at some point. The problem is that most of them will end up behind bars again, if not for new crimes then for parole violations. Most states recognize that if they can cut their recidivism rates by just a small fraction, they will save enormous amounts of money.

Since 2004, Connecticut has been putting more money into reentry programs such as parole, housing and drug treatment. The state has seen its prison population decline after a worrisome spike upwards. “Around the country, it's becoming politically safe to do this stuff,” says Michael Lawlor, chair of the Connecticut House Judiciary Committee, “because there's something in it for everybody, social progressives and fiscal conservatives.” Still, the idea that has dominated state corrections policy that it is better to lock up offenders than waste energy worrying about how they're treated while they're in prison – has enormous political resonance. Governing says “the notion of investing in felons for the purposes of rehabilitation still doesn't sit well with the public at large.” The article cites California votes in favor of get-tough measures.


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