Cash-strapped states are releasing thousands of prisoners as they seek to trim ballooning prison budgets, says the Wall Street Journal. The same squeeze compelling them to free more inmates makes it tougher for ex-convicts to start a new life, and is fueling a debate about how best to prevent them from returning to crime. Some policymakers are pushing states to help ex-convicts assimilate. “The battle here and in other states has been whether money saved by reducing incarceration will then be reinvested into programs designed to keep people safely out of prison,” says Michigan state Sen. Alan Cropsey, who supports devoting more resources to counseling parolees.
About two of three people freed from state prisons are rearrested in three years, according to a 2002 study by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. Lately, some states have warmed to the idea that rehabilitation outside prison can be cheaper and more effective. Adam Gelb of the Pew Center on the States says a day in prison costs $79 on average; a day on probation costs $3.42. “States can substantially beef up supervision in the community and do it at a fraction of the cost of a prison cell,” he says.