While the U.S. prison population is declining for the first time in nearly 40 years, Arizona is headed in the opposite direction, says the Arizona Republic. Mandatory-sentencing laws keep Arizona inmates in prison for nearly all of their sentenced time. State lawmakers say rewriting sentencing guidelines to grant shorter prison terms is politically unlikely. Amid a historic budget shortfall, some legislators are intent on finding ways to reduce the $880 million bill taxpayers foot each year for locking up convicts, nearly 10 percent of the state’s $8.9 billion budget.
A look at other states with similar challenges shows some ways prison populations – and costs – can be cut. With changes over the past five years, Texas has reduced its prison population and halted plans for a huge prison expansion. Texas spent several hundred million dollars to expand rehabilitation programs but did not build any new prison capacity. By contrast, Arizona plans to add 15,000 beds in state and privately owned prisons to its system in the next four years.