Tuesday, March 3, 2009

What Recession?

Prison Spending Outpaces All But Medicaid:

One in every 31 adults, or 7.3 million Americans, is in prison, on parole or probation, at a cost to the states of $47 billion in 2008, according to a new study.

Criminal correction spending is outpacing budget growth in education, transportation and public assistance, based on state and federal data. Only Medicaid spending grew faster than state corrections spending, which quadrupled in the past two decades, according to the report Monday by the Pew Center on the States, the first breakdown of spending in confinement and supervision in the past seven years.

States have shown a preference for prison spending even though it is cheaper to monitor convicts in community programs, including probation and parole, which require offenders to report to law enforcement officers. A survey of 34 states found that states spent an average of $29,000 a year on prisoners, compared with $1,250 on probationers and $2,750 on parolees. The study found that despite more spending on prisons, recidivism rates remained largely unchanged.
Throw in local jails, and we spend more than $60 billion on corrections annually. And despite no noticeable decrease in recidivism, as mentioned, adherents of the "lock 'em up and throw away the key" mania from the 1990's continue to claim false success.

Brian Walsh, a senior research fellow at the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation, agreed that focusing on probation and parole could reduce recidivism and keep crime rates low in the long run. But Mr. Walsh said tougher penalties for crimes had driven the crime rate down in the first place.

“The reality is that one of the reasons crime rates are so low is because we changed our federal and state systems in the past two decades to make sure that people who commit crimes, especially violent crimes, actually have to serve significant sentences,” he said.
Of course, that's nonsense. The "reality" is that our prisons are filled with non-violent drug offenders and petty property criminals. The notion that the massive increase in incarceration in the 80's and 90's had more than a minimal effect on the drop in crime has been discredited time and again in the research.

But don't let a few facts get in the way. And while Georgia's budget circles the drain, and massive cuts in education pre-K through post-college continue, the state leads the way in proportion of adults under some form of correctional control.
Georgia had 1 in 13 adults under some form of punishment; Idaho, 1 in 18; the District of Columbia, 1 in 21; Texas, 1 in 22; Massachusetts, 1 in 24; and Ohio, 1 in 25.
Nice to know where our priorities lie.

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