With many state budgets in crisis, governors, legislators and prison officials are making or considering changes that could remove tens of thousands of offenders from prisons and parole supervision, the Associated Press reports. The initiatives could add up to one of biggest shifts ever in corrections policy, putting into place cost-saving reforms that have not won political support in the tough-on-crime climate of recent decades. Faced with a projected $42 billion deficit and prison overcrowding, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to eliminate parole for offenders not convicted of violent or sex-related crimes, reducing the parole population by 70,000. Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine wants an early release of 1,000 inmates.
New York Gov. David Paterson wants early release for 1,600 inmates and an overhaul of the Rockefeller Drug Laws that impose lengthy mandatory sentences on many nonviolent drug offenders. Policy-makers in Michigan, one of four states that spend more money on prisons than higher education, are awaiting a report from the Council of State Governments’ Justice Center on ways to trim fast-rising corrections costs, likely including sentencing and parole modifications. The Pew Center on the States’ Public Safety Performance Project has projected that state and federal prison populations could grow by more than 190,000 by 2011, to about 1.7 million, at a cost to states of $27.5 billion. “Prisons are becoming less and less of a sacred cow,” said Adam Gelb, the project’s director. “The budget crisis is giving leaders on both sides of the aisle political cover they need to tackle issues that would be too tough to tackle when budgets are flush.”