Connecticut’s prison population is down 6.2 percent in three years and the state has stopped shipping prisoners to other states, says the Wall Street Journal. Theresa Lantz credits a state law that promoted the release of less-dangerous offenders — for example, by letting those accused of minor crimes stay home while awaiting trial. Connecticut is one of many states taking steps to reduce its prison population because housing criminals is expensive: The average cost was $22,650 a year per person in 2001, the last year for which figures are available.
The two-decade trend of severe penalties has led to a surge in corrections spending. In fiscal year 2006, states are expected to spend $34.6 billion, up 24 percent from five years earlier, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Only Medicaid has grown faster in the past decade among state budget items. “Something has got to give,” says Scott Pattison of the National Association of State Budget Officers. U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS.) has introduced a bill that would provide $200 million to help inmates readjust to society. Kansas has one of the most promising re-entry programs. It started as a pilot project in Shawnee County three years ago and now is expanding statewide. The program identifies inmates who are due to be released within 18 months and assesses their education, job skills, addictions and living arrangements. It also tries to pinpoint industries where workers are needed.