Cutting Prison Terms: Smart Move or Safety Risk?


The deepening financial crisis may force dramatic changes in the hard-line, punishment-based philosophy that has dominated the U.S. criminal justice system for nearly two decades, says USA Today. As 31 states report budget gaps that totaled nearly $30 billion last year, criminal justice officials and lawmakers are making cost-cutting changes across the public safety spectrum, with uncertain ramifications for the public. The potential risks of pursuing such policies is the subject of growing debate. While some analysts believe the philosophical shift is long overdue, others fear it could undermine public safety. Ryan King of The Sentencing Project, which advocates for alternatives to incarceration, says the financial crisis has created enough “political cover” to fuel a new look at the realities of incarcerating more than 2 million people and supervising 5 million others on probation and parole.
Joshua Marquis, a past vice president of the National District Attorneys Association, agrees the economy is prompting an overhaul of justice policy but reaches a different conclusion about its impact on public safety. He says, “If we do this, we will pay a price. No question.” Kansas closed two detention facilities last month to save about $3.5 million. A third will be shuttered by April 1. A California panel of federal judges recommended that the cash-strapped state release up to 57,000 non-violent inmates from the overcrowded system to help save $800 million. Kentucky allowed for the release of non-violent offenders up to six months before their sentences end to serve the balance of their time at home. Says Jeremy Travis, president of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, “Out of this turmoil, some states realize that the size of the prison population is more than they can bear,” he says. “And the public safety yield (from jailing so many) is largely uncertain.”

Comments are closed.