Many states are being forced by budget deficits to close some prisons

    Economic restraints run the show again.  <<"We are going to have to make some tough choices about prisons versus schools, and about getting a better investment return on how we run our prisons so we don't have so many prisoners reoffending and being sent back.">> The choices are not TOUGH when they are centered on common sense, like putting education above the profits of the industrial prison complex syndrome. The way prisons are run today, induces the revolving door disorder that exists today.  Prison reform isn't just a fancy word.  It doesn't just belong to so-called LIBERALS.  It is essential for the economy.  Prisoners can be rehabilitated so that they do not return, but not the way they are being treated today.  Not by abusing them, not by turning them loose with a few measly dollars in their pockets and no outside support system to help them get back on their feet so that they may rejoin Society as responsible citizens.

    The article below is a start.  We must keep the pressure on to make the world see the fallacy in incarcerating 2,000,000 people and keeping them in prison for long sentences.  You cannot turn loose thousands of prisoners who have been continuously abused and mistreated [menally, emotionally, spiritually and physically] by very sick sick people themselves, without PROPER treatment, training and caring, and expect them to instantly become just like you.  This is wrong thinking, it is backwards thinking, and it will fail.  Our leaders must take a hard look at how the economy is suffering because of overdoing something that was wrong in the first place, yes.  However, they must also take a hard look at how to solve this issue with common sense and forethought.

Sherry Swiney

----- Original Message -----
From: "Brenda Pitts Bennett" <>
To: "Brenda Pitts Bennett" <>
Sent: Monday, January 21, 2002 6:50 PM
Subject: many states are being forced by budget deficits to close some

January 21, 2002

Tight Budgets Force States to Reconsider Crime and Penalties

Matt Sullivan for The New York Times
Ohio is closing the Orient Correctional Institution in Columbus to save
money, clearing bunks as the 1,700 inmates are transferred to other prisons.

   In Depth
Crime and Courts

    After three decades of building more prisons and passing tougher sentencing laws, many states are being forced by budget deficits to close some prisons, lay off guards and consider shortening sentences.
In the last month, Ohio, Michigan and Illinois have each moved to close a prison, laying off guards in the process, prison officials say. Washington State is considering a proposal by Gov. Gary Locke to shorten sentences for nonviolent crimes and drug offenses and to make it easier for inmates to win early release, saving money by shrinking the prison population. Colorado and Illinois are delaying building prisons, and Illinois is cutting education for 25,000 inmates. California, which led the nation's prison building boom, will close five small, privately operated minimum security prisons when their contracts expire this year. Budget pressures are also adding momentum to a push to put a proposal on the California ballot in November that would reduce the number of criminals subject to the state's three-strikes sentencing law. "I don't know of a correctional system in the country that isn't facing some of this," said Chase Riveland, a former director of Washington State prisons, now a consultant. Steven Ickes, an assistant director of the Oregon Department of Corrections, said, "My sense is that budget problems are making people ask fundamental questions about whether we can afford to keep on doing what we've been doing," locking up ever more criminals for longer periods. "We are going to have to make some tough choices about prisons versus schools, and about getting a better investment return on how we run our prisons so we don't have so many prisoners reoffending and being sent back." Since the early 1970's, the number of state prisoners has increased 500 percent, growing each year in the 1990's even as crime fell. In that time, prisons were the fastest-growing item in state budgets - often the only growing item. More than two million inmates were in state and federal prisons and local jails, which cost more than $30 billion a year to run, Allen J. Beck, of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, said. In those years, said Franklin Zimring, director of the Earl Warren Legal Institute at the University of California, public pressure to get tough on crime made prison budgets virtually untouchable. But with crime having dropped or leveled off in the last nine years, this political pressure has abated, and with the economy in a decline, many states are having to cut spending to balance their budgets. "This means that prisons must now compete by everybody else's rules for scarce budget resources," Professor Zimring said.

    But whether fiscal restraints will lead to a decline in the number of peoplein prison is less clear, Mr. Beck said. In the second half of 2000, he said, the number of inmates fell for the first time since 1972.
"My best guess," Mr. Beck said, "is that the economic restraints are going to be offset by the rigidities of the sentencing laws of the 1990's, which required longer sentences. "What we may have is stability, with the prison population continuing to grow, but slowly, in keeping with the population of the United States." The biggest change in response to the tight budgets has come in the three states that have moved to close prisons: Ohio, Michigan and Illinois. Reginald Wilkinson, the director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said he had been ordered to cut his budget by 1.5 percent, or $19 million. At first, Mr. Wilkinson said, he feared he would have to close two prisons but found he could achieve the savings by closing one, the old Orient Correctional Institution, a maximum security prison in Columbus with 1,700 inmates. They are being transferred to 10 other prisons in Ohio. Some guards will also be transferred, but about 200 employees will be laid off, Mr. Wilkinson said. He is offering other guards incentives for early retirement. Guards account for about 80 percent of the cost of prisons. In Michigan, where the prison department had to save $50 million, it closed a medium security prison in Jackson, 70 miles west of Detroit, along with a halfway house and a work camp. The prison agency also laid off 97 guards who worked in Jackson and cut 161 positions for sergeants, unit managers and assistant deputy wardens at other prisons, said Matt Davis, a spokesman. To reduce costs further, Michigan is moving 250 to 300 prisoners who were temporarily housed in county jails back into prisons so more state guards do not have to be laid off, Mr. Davis said. But Wayne Kangas, the sheriff of Clinton County, where some of the state prisoners were housed, said the state's action would cost his county from $500,000 to $600,000 in lost revenues. "This will be a major problem for us," Sheriff Kangas said. "It's a real shock." Illinois is closing the Joliet Correctional Center, an old prison that once held George Nelson, known as Baby Face, and is saving $5.4 million by eliminating classes for inmates beyond courses to pass a high school equivalency test, said Sergio Molina, a prisons spokesman. Illinois is also looking to save money with a new food program for inmates, Mr. Molina said. In Washington, Governor Locke is asking the legislature to reduce sentences for nonviolent crimes and drug offenses and to release such prisoners faster for good behavior. Don Arlow, the budget and strategic planning chief for the Washington Department of Corrections, said these measures would reduce the number of inmates by 122 in a year. Governor Locke has also proposed to exempt inmates judged least likely to commit new crimes from supervision after they are released. California will not renew licenses for five small private prisons for minimum-security inmates later this year, said Stephen Green, a spokesman for the California Youth and Adult Correctional Agency. The state can do this because the number of inmates fell to 156,000, from 162,000, in 1999, Mr. Green said, and his agency expects a further drop of 3.1 percent this year. Inmates in the five private prisons will be transferred to regular state prisons. California has 6,700 inmates serving sentences of 25 years to life under the state's three-strikes law. Besides complaints that the law is overly punitive, there has long been criticism that it is an expensive way to combat crime, keeping people locked up long after their prime years for committing crime. As long as the California economy was doing well, this criticism was blunted. But Mr. Green said the budget deficit was making some legislators change their views, and he said he expected a proposal to require that the third strike be for a violent offense to be on the ballot this fall.

Sharing by:  Brenda Pitts Bennett
Texas Prisoners Advocates