As the U.S. Justice Department seeks new ways to reduce the U.S. prison population, its success is likely to depend on community programs such as the one in Peoria, Il., says the Washington Post. In the past 11 years, federal prosecutors in Peoria have authorized substance abuse treatment and other assistance for more than 100 low-level offenders as an alternative to prison sentences. Eighty-seven have successfully completed the program and, in the process, saved the federal government more than $6 million in incarceration costs.
Justice officials see the program in Peoria as a model for other communities and central to the criminal justice reforms that Attorney General Eric Holder is moving to implement. Holder, a former judge and prosecutor, told ex-offenders in St. Louis yesterday, “Day after day, I watched lines of young people, most often young men of color, stream through my courtroom. I learned how drug abuse, crime and incarceration can trap people in a destructive cycle. A cycle that weakens communities, tears families apart and destroys individual lives.” Federal, state and local authorities now spend nearly $83 billion each year on corrections. Congress has shown a renewed interest in reducing the prison population, including the introduction this week of a bill to reauthorize the Second Chance Act, which funds grants for programs that support probation, parole and reentry programs.