Will financial problems force a reduction in the number of U.S. prison inmates? Some reformers have made such forecasts, but experts speaking at yesterday's H.F. Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America offered cautionary notes. Releasing prisoners just to save money isn't a good idea if the result is to “return to policies that don't make sense” when the economy improves, said Steve Aos of the Washington State Institute of Public Policy.
States like Kansas and Texas changed their corrections policies to be more cost effective before the recession, said Adam Gelb of the Pew Center on the States Public Safety Performance Project. It would be incorrect to attribute all major prison-policy reforms to budget crises, he said. Incarceration policy shouldn't be changed because of one extreme case such as a parolee who kills a police officer, said Martin Horn, former corrections director in Pennsylvania and New York City. The overall question should be whether government “has managed risk in a thoughtful way,” he said. Connecticut State Sen. John Kissel said the triple murder in Cheshire, Ct., by parolees did prompt serious parole reforms in his state. “We weren't taking it as seriously as we should have been,” Kissel said. The symposium is sponsored by the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.