Alternatives to Incarceration Can Save Millions for Cash-Strapped States

By , June 22, 2010 6:54 pm

With the highest incarceration rate in the world, in 2008 the U.S. puts one out of every 48 working-age men behind bars and spent $75 billion on corrections, the majority of which was spent on incarceration. To make matters worse, a new study released by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) found that the $40 billion jump in state spending on corrections between 1988 and 2008 outpaced nearly every other state budget item, painting a bleak picture of incarceration in the U.S. and the resulting budgetary strain on the states.

As this Dispatch will outline, U.S. incarceration rates have far outpaced the growth in the population because inflexible policies from “truth in sentencing” to mandatory minimum laws have meant non-violent offenses crowd prisons without probation and parole being used to end the budgetary costs of keeping all of them in prison.

Partly due to recognition that filling prisons with non-violent offenders is a waste of human potential and partly because of the current budget crisis, states are beginning to reform their prison and sentencing policies to reduce bloated incarceration rates. Some states are engaging in emergency cuts in prison populations while others are more systematically cutting back or eliminating entirely the mandatory minimum and other rigid sentencing rules that fill prisons in the first place.

States are also directing some of the funds that will be saved from lower incarceration rates to helping ex-felons integrate back into the communities which they will be returning after prison. Such reentry programs recognize that investing in communities can replace the costs of incarceration with jobs and productive activity that actually generate economic development, tax revenues and a safer environment for all residents.

via Alternatives to Incarceration Can Save Millions for Cash-Strapped States | Progressive States Network.

Sociology vs. Criminology

By , June 18, 2010 8:53 am

Generally, the report makes the case that the study of criminal justice requires extensive study of sociology, and that the norms of sociology programs are key. “What the report signals is that sociology is worried about losing intellectual jurisdiction over this very important and popular area,” said Chris Uggen, a criminologist who is chair of sociology at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities (and who was not on the ASA panel that produced the report).

While not rejecting the idea of separate departments of criminal justice and sociology, the report suggests that colleges and universities hesitate before going down that road, that criminology students in either track need to be required to take core sociology courses, and that a new certification standard set by the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences may “erode the social science base of sociology and criminology.”

Leaders of that group view the sociologists’ report as a bit controlling and insulting (one called it “a sour grapes report”) and are preparing a statement of their own to counter the sociologists’ report. The criminal justice professors deride the sociologists’ report as being less about teaching and research and more about cash — in that many college administrators are favoring criminal justice these days, because of the enrollments it provides.

“I think the heart of the matter is that criminal justice is attracting large numbers of students and sociology programs by and large are not,” said Jay Albanese, a professor of criminal justice at Virginia Commonwealth University who has been involved in preparing the response to the sociologists. He said that sociologists have no more right to suggest what the curriculum should be in criminal justice programs than they do in a range of other fields, such as nursing and social work, that also require knowledge of society but that have their own research and teaching methods.

via News: Sociology vs. Criminology – Inside Higher Ed.

The High Budgetary Cost of Incarceration

By , June 10, 2010 8:48 pm

The United States currently incarcerates a higher share of its population than any other country in the world. We calculate that a reduction in incarceration rates just to the level we had in 1993 (which was already high by historical standards) would lower correctional expenditures by $16.9 billion per year, with the large majority of these savings accruing to financially squeezed state and local governments. As a group, state governments could save $7.6 billion, while local governments could save $7.2 billion.

These cost savings could be realized through a reduction by one-half in the incarceration rate of exclusively non-violent offenders, who now make up over 60 percent of the prison and jail population.

via The High Budgetary Cost of Incarceration.

States closing youth prisons

By , June 7, 2010 12:41 pm
Razor wire, detail
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After struggling for years to treat young criminals in razor wire-ringed institutions, states across the country are quietly shuttering dozens of reformatories amid plunging juvenile arrests, softer treatment policies and bleak budgets.

In Ohio, the number of juvenile offenders has plummeted by nearly half over the past two years, pushing the state to close three facilities. California’s closures include a youth institution near Los Angeles that operated for nearly 115 years. And one in Texas will finally go quiet after getting its start as a World War II-era training base.

The closures have juvenile advocates cheering.

“I can tell you it’s the best thing they can do,” said Aaron Kupchik, a University of Delaware criminologist. “Incarceration does nobody any good. You’re taking away most of their chance for normal development.”

via States closing youth prisons – Salt Lake Tribune.

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Government Impotence and Corporate Rule

By , June 2, 2010 12:44 pm

Many news reports about the Gulf oil catastrophe refer to it as a “spill.” Wrong. A spill is a minor “oops” — one accidentally spills milks, for example, and from childhood, we’re taught the old aphorism: “Don’t cry over spilt milk.” What’s in the Gulf isn’t milk and it wasn’t spilt. The explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon well was the inevitable result of deliberate decisions made by avaricious corporate executives, laissez faire politicians and obsequious regulators.

As the ruinous gulf oil blowout spreads onto land, over wildlife, across the ocean floor and into people’s lives, it raises a fundamental question for all of us Americans: Who the hell’s in charge here? What we’re witnessing is not merely a human and environmental horror, but also an appalling deterioration in our nation’s governance. Just as we saw in Wall Street’s devastating economic disaster and in Massey Energy’s murderous explosion inside its Upper Big Branch coal mine, the nastiness in the gulf is baring an ugly truth that We the People must finally face: We are living under de facto corporate rule that has rendered our government impotent.

via t r u t h o u t | Government Impotence and Corporate Rule.

Study Finds Blacks Blocked From Southern Juries

By , June 2, 2010 12:12 pm

In late April in a courthouse in Madison County, Ala., a prosecutor was asked to explain why he had struck 11 of 14 black potential jurors in a capital murder case.

The district attorney, Robert Broussard, said one had seemed “arrogant” and “pretty vocal.” In another woman, he said he “detected hostility.”

Mr. Broussard also questioned the “sophistication” of a former Army sergeant, a forklift operator with three years of college, a cafeteria manager, an assembly-line worker and a retired Department of Defense program analyst.

The analyst, he said, “did not appear to be sophisticated to us in her questionnaire, in that she spelled Wal-Mart, as one of her previous employers, as Wal-marts.”

Arguments like these were used for years to keep blacks off juries in the segregationist South, systematically denying justice to black defendants and victims. But today, the practice of excluding blacks and other minorities from Southern juries remains widespread and, according to defense lawyers and a new study by the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit human rights and legal services organization in Montgomery, Ala., largely unchecked.

via Study Finds Blacks Blocked From Southern Juries –

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