Many state governments, out of money and buried under mounting prison costs, are taking steps to reduce prison populations, says the New York Times. Colorado and Kansas are closing prisons. New Jersey replaced jail time with community programs or other sanctions for people who violate parole. Kentucky is enhancing the credits some inmates can earn toward release. Michigan is freeing some offenders who have yet to serve their maximum sentence.
“When state budgets are flush,” said Barry Krisberg of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, “prisons are something that governors and legislators all support, and they don't want to touch sentencing reform. But when dollars are as tight as they are now, you have to make really tough choices. And so now things are in play.”
The annual cost to keep someone in prison varies, but a typical is $35,000, said Peggy Burke of the Center for Effective Public Policy, a nonprofit group that works with local governments on criminal justice matters. The most pervasive cost-saving trend has been to look closely at parole systems, in which it is no longer cost-effective to monitor released inmates, largely because too many violate their terms, often on technicalities, and end up back in prison.