Many state legislators are trying to save money with what the Associated Press calls “a drastic and potentially dangerous budget-cutting proposal: releasing tens of thousands of convicts from prison, including drug addicts, thieves, and even violent criminals.” Officials say they have no choice because of huge budget gaps brought on by the slumping economy. “If we don’t find a way to better manage the population at the state prison, we will be forced to spend money to expand the state’s prison system – money we don’t have,” said Jeff Neal, a spokesman for Rhode Island Gov. Don Carcieri. At least eight states are considering freeing inmates or sending some convicts to rehabilitation instead of prison. The early releases could save an estimated $450 million in California and Kentucky alone.
Mississippi may offer early parole for people convicted of selling marijuana or prescription drugs. New Jersey, South Carolina, and Vermont are considering funneling drug-addicted offenders into treatment, which is cheaper than prison. Prisons “are one of the most expensive parts of the criminal-justice system,” said Alison Lawrence of the National Conference of State Legislatures. “That’s where they look to first to cut down some of those costs.” Not everyone is sold. “Economics cannot be the engine that drives the train of public safety,” said Terrence Jungel of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association. “Government has no greater responsibility than the protection of its citizens.”