From California to Connecticut, states are under mounting pressure to bring corrections spending in line with the reality of gaping budget shortfalls, reports Stateline.org. Lawmakers in some states are slashing prisoner rehabilitation programs, releasing inmates early, or packing them more tightly into crowded facilities to save money. Others are using technology, such as satellite tracking, to monitor sex offenders, drunken drivers and other criminals instead of keeping them behind bars. To avoid building new prisons, many states ship inmates to private facilities that may be thousands of miles away.
Other states are exploring long-term strategies aimed at preventing recidivism, a leading factor behind overcrowded prisons and jails – and rising costs. At any given time, more than 2.3 million people are locked up in federal, state and local facilities, and more than half of those released from prison are back behind bars within three years, says the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. “We're at a crossroads. I think there is an acknowledgment that if we continue the status quo, we're going to continue to have a prison population that increases to untenable levels,” said Ryan King of The Sentencing Project, which lobbies for changes in sentencing laws as a way to reduce incarceration rates. The booming prison population cost states nearly $50 billion in 2007, but the high incarceration rate has had no discernable effect “either on recidivism or overall crime,” said the Pew Center on the States Public safety Performance Project last year.