Prison Reform Ideas in 22 States Face New Political Landscape

As costs to house inmates soar, many conservatives are reconsidering a tough-on-crime era that led to stiffer sentences, overcrowded prisons, and bloated corrections budgets, the Associated Press reports. “There has been a dramatic shift in the political landscape on this issue in the last few years,” said Adam Gelb of the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States.

Most proposals circulating in at least 22 states would not affect current prisoners, but only future offenders. Newly elected Republican governors in Florida and Georgia are among those pushing reforms. Brent Steele, a Republican state senator in Indiana, concedes that lawmakers share the blame for driving up prison costs. Said Marc Levin of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. “We’re not saying conservatives were wrong 30 years ago. But the pendulum swung too far.” Proposals vary by state, but many include ways to cut penalties for lower-level offenders, direct some to non-prison sentencing, give judges more discretion and smooth the transition for released prisoners.

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