States Considering 'Open Door' Prison Policy

Friday, April 04, 2008 at 09:20 AM

What happens when you adopt criminal laws that put 1% of your adult population behind bars? Your correction costs explode. What happens when your correction costs explode during a recession/depression/slowdown/correction? You open up the prison doors and let your convicts run free.

Or to rehab programs. Anywhere but behind bars.

Thanks to the 315% jump in state correction costs from 1987 to 2007, the AP now reports that:

Lawmakers from California to Kentucky are trying to save money with a drastic and potentially dangerous budget-cutting proposal: releasing tens of thousands of convicts from prison, including drug addicts, thieves and even violent criminals.

Officials acknowledge that the idea carries risks, but they say they have no choice because of huge budget gaps brought on by the slumping economy. "If we don't find a way to better manage the population at the state prison, we will be forced to spend money to expand the state's prison system — money we don't have," said Jeff Neal, a spokesman for Rhode Island Gov. Don Carcieri.

At least eight states are considering freeing inmates or sending some convicts to rehabilitation programs instead of prison, according to an Associated Press analysis of legislative proposals. If adopted, the early release programs could save an estimated $450 million in California and Kentucky alone.

The money-saving proposals vary from increasing the ways prisoners can earn "good time" credits to diverting drug defendants into rehab programs rather than prisons.

So, you have to ask....if these are good proposals, which would reduce the prison population and/or reduce recidivism, without unduly endangering the public, why did we not have these policies before the cash box started running on empty?

Wouldn't it be ironic beyond all palatability if the damned economy turns out to be what produces the first rational prison policies we've seen since Ronald "Mourning in America" Reagan presided over the beginning of our descent into hell?

Then, of course, there's the possibility that these policies will turn loose some folks who should not be on the street among us. In which case, wouldn't it be ironic beyond all palatability if we can find hundreds of billions of dollars to spend on Iraq but not the far smaller amounts needed to keep dangerous people away from the rest of us, or the money for social programs that just might reduce the insanity in the early lives of the people who end up behind bars?


Jails and courts are not fully using the resources available to them. Each county has a drug program, but defendants are not given information about their availability.
You have the criminal and the victim; no one seems to help the third group the criminal's family, friends or employers who bail them out without any drug information, drinking while driving and other information given to those who just set the ir loved ones free. I have seen women with black eyes and broken arms bail out there boyfriends or husbands who did the assault to them. There were no domestic pamphlets or cards to give out to the victims so they would have someone to talk to.