The cost of housing and caring for the $2.3 million Americans inmates has been astronomical, an estimated $55 billion annual expense for taxpayers, says a Washington Post editorial, citing the Pew Center on the States. Some states have been forced to cut spending for higher education to fund corrections programs. As a result, California is considering an overhaul of its prison policies, as are Kentucky, Mississippi, Rhode Island, and South Carolina.
Tough sentences for violent crimes are unquestionably necessary and contributed to a drop in such crimes over the past two decades, says the Post. But prisons should be focused on holding the most dangerous criminals rather than on warehousing nonviolent, first-time offenders. Like California, states should debate early release for the most well-behaved inmates who have no violence in their records — an approach that provides an incentive for good behavior, says the Post. The newspaper notes that some states are considering eliminating parole, but “oversight of recently released prisoners can be critical in keeping them on track.”