Is Dramatic Reform Ahead On Prisons, Sentencing?


By insisting that California improve prisoner rehabilitation, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is joining a national movement of politicians who believe it is time for a new approach to incarceration, the Los Angeles Times says. For almost three decades, politicians have belittled rehabilitation as ineffective mollycoddling. Led by California, the nation started a prison building binge and adopted tough laws that pushed the population behind bars past 2 million.

With states under persistent economic stress and evidence showing that most inmates are rearrested within three years of release, lawmakers are acknowledging the need for change. There is broad agreement that locking up and mostly ignoring offenders has been far from a cure-all for crime. With bipartisan support, states are shortening criminal sentences, restoring early release for good behavior, diverting drug offenders to treatment, and beefing up efforts to help parolees rejoin society. “Even in stark economic terms, it’s become very difficult to argue that our investment in prisons is delivering a great result,” said Michael Jacobson of the Vera Institute, who ran New York City’s jails and probation system in the 1990s. “So I think we’re at a historic moment when … conditions are ripe for dramatic reform.” Some experts sound a cautionary note. UCLA research psychologist David Farabee, in a new book, says the effectiveness of prisoner programs – from education to vocational training – has been “tremendously overstated.”


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