The U.S. Sentencing Commission plans to focus on developing alternatives to incarceration, setting up a possible clash with the Justice Department, reports the Wall Street Journal. Possible models include tribunals like drug courts, which place offenders in treatment instead of prison. The panel’s plan, mentioned in a filing in the Federal Register, could provide an impetus for cash-strapped states to follow suit. A Justice Department spokeswoman said, “We do not believe the use of alternatives should be expanded without further rigorous research showing their effectiveness in promoting public safety.”
Prisons are responsible for some of the largest increases in state spending. The National Association of State Budget Officers says states spent $44 billion in tax revenue on corrections last year, compared with $10.6 billion in 1987. The federal commission has brought in local, state, and federal criminal-justice practitioners from across the country to talk about what they have been doing to ease prison overcrowding and cut correction expenses. The Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a California organization that focuses on crime victims, believes “alternatives are generally not a good idea and particularly for certain classes of criminals,” such as felons and repeat offenders.