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Prisons Running Out of Dough and Turning Prisoners Out

Both sides of the pond are facing a prison problem. In the US, states facing budget crises are now looking at an alternative to raising taxes — let's just say it's a lock-checking idea. They're letting prisoners go free well before their sentences are completed.

In a time of tough budget decisions and rising prison costs, a choice has to be made. Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a Washington located group that supports fairer sentencing, said: “Do you want to build prisons or build colleges? If you’re a governor, it’s kind of come to that choice right now.”

To see how some states are compromising on containment, and what's happening in the UK,


  • California, one of the hardest hit states has proposed letting go 22,000 nonviolent, nonsexual offenders nearly two years earlier than sentenced to save nearly $1.1 billion over two years.
  • Providence, RI approved a “good time” early-release program, which will place a greater number of inmates under post-prison supervision and is expected to save $8 billion over five years.
  • Mississippi has seen their inmate population double during the past twelve years. Governor Haley Barbour has signed into law two measures to ease the financial burden. One is to let nonviolent offenders go after serving 25% of their term and the other is to release terminally ill prisoners.
  • Kentucky is looking at a $900 million deficit over two years and has a plan to let non-violent, non-sexual offenders serve 180 days of their terms at home, which is expected to save $30 million.
  • It's not just the US experiencing a problem holding their prisoners. A new documentary paints a scary picture: to ease similar overcrowding, hundreds of dangerous offenders, including murderers, are being sent to low security open prisons and then — oops — escaping.

    Apparently since Labour came to power almost ten years ago, 14,000 criminals have “absconded” from open prisons, including many dangerous offenders, and some 149 offenders are still at large — including murderers, armed robbers and drug smugglers. The low-security prisons are aptly named — 130 murderers have escaped from them in the past 10 years - more than one a month.

    Considering that the US has 25 percent of the world's prison population is this a troubling trend? Do states have the right priorities choosing education over prison funding, or is the choice ridiculous? Are we skimping on funding public safety?


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