Today, as we watched the stock market hit a 12-year low, the Pew Center on the States released a report that's enough to turn your stomach. The report paints a stark picture of our out-of-control prison spending and calls for immediate cuts and a shift toward community corrections.
Last year (corrections) was the fastest expanding major segment of state budgets, and over the past two decades, its growth as a share of state expenditures has been second only to Medicaid. State corrections costs now top $50 billion annually and consume one in every 15 discretionary dollars.
One in 31 Americans are either in jail, prison or under the eye of state supervision. But parole and probation aren't sucking up our increasingly scarce budget dollars. It's our prisons. One in three people under supervision are in prison, but prisons account for 90% of corrections spending. The chart below draws on data from just eight states, but shows the disparity in spending between prison and probation over the last 25 years.
"Most states are facing serious budget deficits,"said Susan Urahn, managing director of The Pew Center on the States. "Every single one of them should be making smart investments in community corrections that will help them cut costs and improve outcomes."
Research shows that strong community supervision programs for lower-risk, non-violent offenders not only cost significantly less than incarceration but, when appropriately resourced and managed, can cut recidivism by as much as 30 percent. Diverting these offenders to community supervision programs also frees up prison beds needed to house violent offenders, and can offer budget makers additional resources for other pressing public priorities.
Readers of this blog know that I support decriminalization and drug treatment for the hundreds of thousands of people in prison and on probation for drug crimes in our country. But I'm also a pragmatist. If a shift toward community corrections can be accomplished more quickly than legalization of drugs, I'm all for the immediate solution - it would be a step in the right direction.
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