Mixed Picture on Sentencing Reform in Cash-Strapped States


As state governments try to cope with various financial crises, only a few so far have enacted major laws to reduce prison populations, says Susan Parnas Frederick of the National Conference of State Legislatures. Speaking yesterday to representatives of criminal justice groups in Washington, D.C., Frederick said some state legislators resist voting for proposals that would associate them with favoring earlier-than-usual releases of inmates. Kentucky, Arkansas, and Vermont are among states that have approved measures that may reduce prison terms for low-level offenders, but other places like Florida and Indiana have declined to enacted such laws. “It’s very hard to sell releasing prisoners to the general public,” she said.

Frederick noted that criminal-sentencing proposals are still pending in some places, including Washington State. In general, criminal justice bills in states that would call for increasing expenditures have been “dead on arrival,” Frederick said. Also, state legislatures are reluctant to ask federal officials in Washington for aid. Some states may forgo compliance with the federal Adam Walsh Act on sex offender registries rather than spend funds to comply. This year may be the worst financially for states in recent years. Legislators generally “feel optimistic that next year will be a little better,” she said.

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