State legislators are looking for more ways to free up prison-cell space and save money, including expanded programs to help prevent offenders from being incarcerated again, earlier release dates for low-risk inmates, and sentencing revisions, reports Stateline.org. Criminal justice analysts point to Kansas and Texas as recent innovators. Both states are putting off building new prisons, focusing on rehabilitation and recidivism. A new $7.7 billion prison spending plan in California – where overcrowding last year forced Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to declare a state of emergency – has met with skepticism. Critics call the plan “prison expansion, not prison reform” and say the initiative relies on impractical fixes such as shipping inmates out of state.
State spending on prisons surged 10 percent nationally last fiscal year and growing inmate populations played a lead role in those costs, says the National Conference of State Legislatures. Corrections trails only education and health care in swallowing state dollars. “We're seeing more and more states in different regions and with different political leadership tackling this issue and recognizing that the more they spend on prisons, the less they have to spend on health, education and other priorities,” said Adam Gelb, project director of the Public Safety Performance Project. The project, funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, has forecast steep increases in incarceration rates and state spending in the next five years unless legislatures enact policy changes. Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius last month signed a prison plan that is winning accolades for its creativity. The $4.4 million package provides financial incentives to community correctional systems for reducing prisoner admissions and allows some low-risk inmates to reduce their sentences through education or counseling while behind bars.