Category Archives: Department of Corrections

DOC: Budget Cuts Will Force Offenders to go Unsupervised

Department of Corrections (DOC) Secretary Eldon Vail says the DOC witll stop supervising 9,000 people due to decreased state budgets.  The group includes property, drug, and non violent offenders.  The most violent offenders and high-level sex offenders, however, will not see a change in supervision or management.  Additionally, inmate beds will be reduced.  One DOC prison will also be closed.

Some worry that crime will increase.

My opinion?  Again, the embattled economy has caught up with the criminal justice system.  It’s interesting what happens when we’re forced to tighten our belts, both individually and collectively.  On an individual level, we spend less on luxury items.  We hope that our sacrifices are enough to pull us through hard times.  If not, we consider more drastic measures, and perhaps (gasp) a total retooling of our spending habits.

Collectively, our weakened economy makes our lawmakers to realize that jailing low-level crimes is an expensive luxury.  I’ve often blogged that incarceration is THE MOST EXPENSIVE solution to crime and punishment.  We can’t afford to blindly warehouse people any more.  It isn’t the answer.

New Findings: Decline in Black Incarceration for Drug Offenses

For the first time in 25 years, since the inception of the “war on drugs,” the number of African Americans incarcerated is state prisons for drug offenses has declined substantially.  According to a recent study released by The Sentencing Project, there exists a 21.6% drop in the number of blacks incarcerated for a drug offense.  This presents a decline of 31,000 people during the period 1999-2005.

Why the decrease?  The study shows that many states are softening their approach to crime by reconsidering overly punitive sentencing on defendants.  Diversionary programs are also being re-examined.  The changing approach is, not surprisingly, inspired by fiscal concerns.  Policymakers recognize that skyrocketing corrections costs cut into public support for higher education and other vital services.

Second, at the federal level, the U.S. Sentencing Commission has enacted changes in the sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine offenses, and members of Congress are considering proposals to reform the mandatory penalties for crack offenses.

My opinion?  Ironically, the recession has spurred positive changes in the criminal justice system.  Many lawmakers realize the foolishness behind incarcerating people for low-level drug offenses.  Also, I believe the “War on Drugs” has changed tactics.  Nowadays, police are more interested in busting defendants for methamphetamine (meth) than crack cocaine.  Meth is considered  a much larger risk to public safety and health.  Meth is also largely used/possessed by non-minorities.   This is partially because most meth labs are found in rural destinations; which have more caucasians, and not so much in the inner city, where more minorities dwell.

Just my two cents . . .

Closing Prisons, Slashing Sentences Eyed to Balance Budget

Excellent Seattle Times article.

In a sour economy, Washington and other states’ lawmakers are considering budget cuts that would close prisons, loosen sentencing guidelines and slash probation terms.  Lawmakers in Olympia are looking for nearly $4 billion in spending cuts.

My opinion?  Make lemonade out of lemons.  Perceive our budget woes as opportunities to revamp our criminal justice system.  Community service helps everyone.  Jailing low-level offenders helps no one.

Studies show the most expensive and least productive response to drug, mental-health and poverty-driven crime is full confinement. The most effective and most cost-productive response is community-based work, education and retraining.

True, there are some very violent and nasty defendants who probably should be incarcerated (even though they STILL deserve the benefits of a system which adamantly preserves their constitutional rights).  However, most people in the criminal-justice system are not in that violent category. Most are caught up in generations of a lifestyle where low-level crime is the accepted norm. It is these people who are unnecessarily sanctioned with long jail/prison sentences, parole, probation, etc.

My hope is that now, when we are asked to re-evaluate our use of limited resources, we will make the change for a broader, more socially beneficial response to crime.  Don’t spend hundreds of millions on penal institutions that give nothing back.  Instead, spend tens of millions on people.  Schools, community centers and community work programs are cheaper than jails.