Prisons Crowded? Just Let Some People Go!

Jason Morris

This August I wrote about the Blumstein study on criminal recidivism rates.  Ironically, there is a lot of news this week about several states including California, releasing prisoners early due to prison overcrowding!  Now, before you throw your coffee mug through your computer screen allow me to clarify this.  According to Time Magazine:

No state is freeing sex offenders, murderers or habitually violent criminals. Most inmates who are eligible for early release are those who were caught with relatively small amounts of drugs. And generally, early-release guidelines require that inmates be within six months of their official exit date.

Still however mistakes will be made.  There is an old adage, “I didn’t become a criminal until I went to Jail.” Are we putting dangerous people into society? I only raise the question, I don’t really have a strong opinion either way.  One would hope that these offenders embraced rehabilitation programs and will re-enter society as upstanding citizens.  It does beg the question; “Is your employment screening program strong enough to vet these individuals?”  We now have three states; California, Colorado and Kentucky releasing inmates early.  Is your state next?

Do Early-Release Programs Raise the Crime Rate?

Americans famously overspent during the 1990s and early ’00s. It’s a familiar story: we mortgaged oversized homes to buy colossal TVs. But you may have heard less about another commodity we binged on: justice. Americans indulged in an enormous criminal-justice spending spree during the past 25 years, locking up more and more offenders (particularly for drug-related crimes) for longer and longer sentences. Total spending on incarceration rose from $39 per U.S. resident in 1982 to $210 per resident in 2006, according to the most recent figures from the Justice Department. We now spend $62 billion a year on corrections, and about 500 of every 100,000 Americans are behind bars. As recently as the 1970s, the figure was only 100 in 100,000.

Owing to budget crises, many states are now having trouble affording to keep so many people locked up. Some states are cutting incarceration expenses by consolidating prisons; some are trying to slash prison-food and health-care costs. But real savings come only when you reduce prison populations, and so some states — including California, Colorado and Kentucky — have begun releasing inmates early. “The pressure in state legislatures all over the country is to bring down the populations, because we just can’t afford the level of punishment that we’ve had the last 20 years,” says Joan Petersilia, a criminologist at Stanford Law School.

Criminologists say little research has been conducted to determine whether early-release initiatives lead to higher crime rates, although some prisoners who get out will undoubtedly commit crimes that they wouldn’t have been able to commit if they were still behind bars. “There’s no risk-free early-release program,” says Jeremy Travis, president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. But early release doesn’t simply mean opening the gates and letting inmates run for it. No state is freeing sex offenders, murderers or habitually violent criminals. Most inmates who are eligible for early release are those who were caught with relatively small amounts of drugs. And generally, early-release guidelines require that inmates be within six months of their official exit date.

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Jason Morris

President & Chief Operating Officer at EmployeeScreenIQ
A veteran screening and risk management professional, Jason Morris founded EmployeeScreenIQ in 1999 and acts as the company’s chief operating officer and president. Morris is a frequent speaker delivering captivating, interactive discussions on background checks, global screening, recruitment and staffing. He educates audiences in best practice initiatives as they relate to organizational employment screening programs. Morris has been quoted in numerous business and industry publications including The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC.com, USA Today, New York Times, among others. He is also a licensed private investigator in the states of Ohio, Illinois, New Jersey, Texas, Arizona and Nevada.
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  • Name Undercover

    Overcrowding tells me that coddling you prisoners does NOT keep you from prison. Yes CODDLING! The picture of overcrowding posted on some blogs, looks more like the local rescue mission, except YOU get clean sheets and clean clothing! You have a TV set, books to read, a toilet, clean showers, weight lifting equipment, good food etc. That’s more then I have. So WHERE IS THE PUNISHMENT?

    Alternatives to coddling: sleep on the ground (like I have to); no TV, radio, books, cigarettes, or wholesome food (I don’t have those things, so why should YOU?); HARD WORK for everyone, every day, for at least 8 hours, even if it means breaking up rocks, or digging one hole to fill up another… just like every NORMAL person has to do on the outside (except you don’t deserve a paycheck). And you should be scrubbing the ceilings/walls/floors, bathrooms/showers, and washing your own clothes/dishes/towels/sheets too.

    As a prisoner you have NO rights. You gave them up when you chose to do the crime. If prisons DID what they were set up to do, you would do everything possible to keep from having to go back! The prisons would NEVER be overcrowded. Instead, people clamor just to get IN, so they can have a warm bed, fresh hot food, clean clothes, a toilet/showers, and a TV!

    As an alternative to MY alternative: you may like the idea Grace has for a prison town.
    See http://www.gracetowne.blogspot.com