Sentencing reform could mean big savings for states
States across the nation are experimenting with sentencing reform aimed at reducing bloated prison populations. Last week the ALCU released a summary of such efforts currently going on in many states. While sentencing reform is chiefly positioned and lobbied on criminal justice grounds, it also is one of the most promising budget reduction actions a state can take. Reducing incarceration rates means less money spent on inmates, prisons, and personnel.
The synopsis highlights sentencing reforms in the following 17 states: Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Washington, and West Virginia.
The details differ from state to state, but a definite trend running through the nation's sentencing reforms revolves around reducing penalties for low-level drug offenses and other non-violent crimes. A number of states are also tinkering with parole rules and penalties to reduce incarceration rates.
Corrections is often one of the largest budget expenditure for many states. While a prime and logical target for savings, cutting corrections budgets is a politically difficult task due to public safety concerns - that is without a significant drop in prison population. Reducing the number of inmates allows states to spend less on building new prisons and housing inmates while significantly shrinking the state labor force, saving untold amounts on salary and pension costs.
Without a smaller prison population, corrections budget reform is relegated to the ineffectual cutting of programs - which often means cutting a few million dollars from billion-dollar budgets. But by carefully passing meaningful sentence reform, states could potentially be positioning themselves for huge future budget savings.