States Take Different Routes on Prison Population

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States are divided over whether adding to the nation’s total of more than 2 million people in prisons and jails, says the Baltimore Sun. Some governors and legislators are wondering whether they can afford to house more offenders at an average of $25,000 a year apiece.

“Even some of your more right-wing people are saying, ‘Let’s see what we can do to get some people out of prison to save some money,'” says Reginald A. Wilkinson, director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and president of the association of state prison chiefs. Wilkinson says is taking advantage of a budget squeeze to push for cheaper alternatives. Ohio’s prison population has fallen from a 1998 high of 49,000 to 45,000, and two prisons have been closed.

In Maryland, there’s no talk of closing prisons. Major expansions are planned or under way at North Branch Correctional Institution near Cumberland and Eastern Correctional Institution on the Eastern Shore to add 396 beds to the crowded system.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and his secretary of public safety and correctional services, Mary Ann Saar, have said they want to use drug treatment and closer supervision of parolees to keep former offenders from returning to prison. Saar’s plans “all have the goal of getting people out of prison and keeping them out,” says Mark A. Vernarelli, director of public information for the department of public safety. Given the steady flow of prisoners sent by the courts, “we maintain a constant vigil for land for new prisons,” he says.


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